Gualala Video – The Last Store of Its Kind

Photo courtesy of The Press Democrat.

Blockbuster Video never opened a store in the small town of Gualala, California. Hollywood Video never did either, and Redbox never bothered to put any kiosks up at either of the two supermarkets there. Now a lot of this may have to do with Gualala having a population of around 2,000, and it is never quick to let many corporate giants like Wal-Mart into town as they love their mom-and-pop shops. But seriously, the real reason none of them set up shop here was because of Gualala Video which is, quite frankly, my favorite video store on the face of the earth. This store had over 27,000 titles to choose from on DVD, Blu-ray and VHS, and looking at the many selections made me happy I still own a VCR after all these years. If they didn’t have what you were looking for, then it was never made into a movie or television show in the first place.

Photo by Wayne Moore
Photo by Wayne Moore

But sadly, Gualala Video is now closed. Despite having survived the streaming wars and Blockbuster Video, it fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic which seems never ending. While David Bradbrook, who has owned the store since 2003, did what he could to keep business going like offering curbside rentals, the rent and the overhead became too much for anyone to deal with. One big fan of the store did create a GoFundMe page in an effort to raise $5,000 to help David out, and while they have since raised over $3,100, it was not enough to prevent the inevitable.

Photo by The Ultimate Rabbit

Now the store closed some time ago, but I was in Gualala recently for the Thanksgiving holiday and it marks the first time I have seen it completely empty. There are some remnants like the store’s name on one of the doors and some stickers no one was able to completely remove. But to look inside this store and see everything gone really haunted me. Seriously, it had everything and anything you were looking for and then some. What is David planning to do with all these titles? Hopefully he has enough room for them at home.

Like another long-lost video store, Rocket Video in Los Angeles, California, Gualala Video had its movies arranged in categories such as by actor, director, and genres like science-fiction. My dad really loved the foreign section which contains films like “A Prophet,” and it had just about every Lars Von Trier movie you would ever want to bring a box of Kleenex to.

Here are some other categories movies were listed under (thanks to John Beck for the following photos):

Sometimes I didn’t even go in there to rent anything; I just went inside to look around and see what was available. Other times, I went in there to see what they didn’t have so I could ask David why this was the case. Like I said they had everything. David has said a lot of people did the same thing to where he wishes he had charged admission just to enter. Hey, Blockbuster would have done the same if it could, especially after their late fee charges were done away with.

If it wasn’t for Gualala Video, I am convinced I would not have seen certain movies for many more years. One of John Carpenter’s earliest works was his 1976 action thriller “Assault on Precinct 13” which he made before “Halloween,” and I could not find it anywhere. Not even another video chain which has long since been put out of business, Take One Video, had a single copy of it which stunned me. Gualala Video, however, did have a copy, and I did not hesitate in renting it right away. If not for this, I would have had to wait for the DVD release which would not happen for at least another five more years. Oh, by the way, “Precinct 13” was awesome and still holds up.

Then there was when my brother and I rented “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” Neither of us had ever watched it before, and the manager looked at the VHS box and said:

“Man! We’ve made over $1,000 dollars off of this one video!”

“We’ve never actually seen it,” my brother said.

A blond teenage girl standing next to us was quick to reply:

“YOU’VE NEVER SEEN IT??!! WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN???!!!!”

Having now watched “Willy Wonka,” I can clearly see why this particular VHS tape was so popular as there are few family movies quite like this one, and I still wonder how it managed to get away with a G rating despite the scary boat tunnel scene which featured an image of a chicken getting its head cut off.

The last time I was there, I rented not one but two films: “John Wick Chapter Two” and “Everybody Wants Some.” Now these were two flicks I should have watched when they arrived at my local multiplex, but work at the time prevented me from doing so. But seeing them on the shelf in Gualala made me realize I had put off seeing them long enough. “John Wick Chapter Two” showed how Keanu Reeves can handle knives and guns better than any other actor in Hollywood, and “Everybody Wants Some,” Richard Linklater’s spiritual sequel to “Dazed and Confused,” made me wish I experienced my high school and college years in the same way he did.

And now Gualala Video is gone forever, and I cannot help but feel sad. It was one of the last of its kind, and there are probably none of them left (not in the East Bay anyway). Independent stores like these are wonderfully unique to where we don’t know what we will do without them. Personally, I can live without Blockbuster Video as its extinction was not a loss. While they had many copies of the newest releases, finding older films was ridiculously difficult. As for its dedication to providing a family friendly environment devoid of any movies rated NC-17, this did not stop them from putting exploitation flicks like “Stripped to Kill” on a shelf right near the children’s section.

This store was a film buff’s dream. You could discover those out-of-print videos and discs which were so hard to find, and no film had to be edited down to an R rating just to qualify as a rental. It is places like Gualala Video which made me remember how much I love movies, how wondrous they can be, of all the ones I still need to catch up on. Now, I can only hope and pray they are available to stream, and not everything is available to stream.

Nick Nolte once said there will always be change and there will always be resistance to change. While change is inevitable, there has got to be a way to preserve certain independent stores like this one. If Barnes & Noble’s annual 50% off Criterion Collection discs sale proves anything, it is that we are far from done with physical media.

And with that, I leave you all with a comment Stacy G. left on the store’s Yelp page:

“If I could burn down my local Blockbuster and replace it with Gualala Video, it would be a dream come true.”

Granted, Blockbuster Video is long gone but, all the same, amen!

Photo by The Ultimate Rabbit

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