EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story contained errors. David Britton is an employee of The Archive, not a manager. The store opened in 2022, not 2021. Vinegar Syndrome does not preserve video tape.
By Barnaby B. Atwood, For the Sentinel
AURORA | There’s a place in Aurora where a young Paul Walker forever reels from having his brain implanted into a robotic dinosaur.
Or at least he struggles with faux-prehistoric tribulations in the 1994 B-movie classic “Tammy and the T-Rex” for as long as the physical tape the movie exists on holds out. Burned into video tape and DVDs, the T-Rex antics will be around for a while.
And that is much of what The Archive shop on East Colfax Avenue is about. It’s a place where the campy, vampy and surreal B-movie genres of the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s and beyond are curated and sold to appreciative fans. Aficionados walk out with movies they can carry, not download. This is a shrine for “physical” media.
“It’s more exciting to flip through and kind of look, and you get the art, and you can read the synopsis and screenshots from the film,” said employee David Britton. “This is so much more exciting than scrolling through a list. There’s no algorithm here.”
Zachary Pennala, a regular at The Archive, came in recently with his dog Karma and a box to store his haul.
“I really am a fan of plugging physical media, and there’s not that many physical media stores like this,” Pennala said. “Especially none of this quality in the area, so it’s really special.”
Most of the movies sold come on DVDs or Blu-rays, which have gone out of fashion in recent years due to streaming.
The Archive, 1421 Dayton St., a half-block off Colfax, is owned by Vinegar Syndrome film redistribution company. It’s in the same building as the Connecticut-based company’s western distribution center.
The retail shop officially opened its doors in October 2022 and has since continued to sell genre movies from Vinegar Syndrome’s catalog as well as other distributors.
Ryan Fletcher is a warehouse manager for Vinegar Syndrome. The idea for The Archive was born after Vinegar Syndrome had already established the distribution center in Aurora.
“Essentially we set this place up for shipping purposes,” Fletcher said. “Then as we were setting this up, the idea was born to start a brick-and-mortar store, The Archive, because we own the whole building.”
Vinegar Syndrome focuses on the restoration and preservation of older films that may have otherwise been lost to time.
This differentiates Vinegar Syndrome, and by extension The Archive, from other brick-and-mortar video stores because of its focus on more obscure exploitation films, mostly from the 60s to the ’80s. The films came to theaters fast and furious, often “exploiting” current events and controversies. The genre leans into anything shocking, such as depictions of sex and violence and as such is much more adult oriented.
Vinegar Syndrome is also considered a boutique Blu-ray label, which means it distributes its own limited-edition releases of films, with added features like alternative covers or extra content related to the movie.
The name Vinegar Syndrome comes from the name for the process by which cellulose triacetate film stock starts to degrade over time. The film releases acetic acid, which degrades the images and creates a vinegar-like smell. Many of the movies Vinegar Syndrome restores were filmed using cellulose triacetate film stock and are preserved digitally or on another medium.
“The stock before 1950 can explode. The stock after 1950 can rot,” said Howard Movshovitz, a Denver film critic and professor at the University of Colorado Denver.
On top of having to race against the clock before the film stock deteriorates, another issue with film preservation is the lack of care the stock was given after its showing. According to Movshovitz, it was more expensive to ship the heavy film stocks back to the distributors, so instead many of the films were just junked.
“Film distributors didn’t foresee ever showing it again,” Movshovitz said, “or that anybody would be interested in a way that would make them money, and so they just said to destroy it.”
While many of the films Vinegar Syndrome works with are more obscure exploitation films, fans of the genre and archivists argue they are still worth preserving. While their numbers vary, Fletcher said the distribution warehouses tend to ship out a couple thousand discs per week both in the U.S. and internationally.
“I’m not an archivist, but I think that most archivists — for instance, the Library of Congress — believe that a whole range of films are important to preserve,” Movshovitz said. “Home movies can be an extraordinary record of who we are and what the world looks like at a certain time. And so when you start saying, ‘Well, this is valuable, and that isn’t valuable,’ you’re in pretty tricky territory because films are a great indication of who we are and what we are.”
As for why people are still interested in these films today, Britton says it ranges, but most consumers are motivated by curiosity and nostalgia.
“There’s a lot of movies that people have either never heard of, or maybe read about years ago in a movie magazine or heard reference to it or something,” Britton said. “And then they find it on the shelf here, and if it’s something that you’ve only ever heard of and never seen in the wild, it’s a really exciting thing to encounter.”
Britton also mentions younger people being nostalgic for these films in a different way.
“I feel like there are a lot of younger generations that when they’re growing up they didn’t have tapes or DVDs,” Britton said. “It was ‘here’s your iPod or your phone,’ and then everything was streaming. I feel like people are having nostalgia for things that they never got to experience.”
Manger Theresa Mercado also mentions a new generation getting into the world of older films.
“Some of our biggest VHS and Laserdisc collectors are younger people that found a VCR, (or) they found a laserdisc player maybe at a thrift store or something, and they are fascinated,” Mercado said. “Because this generation of stuff, they were born a little too late, so they’re just now getting into it.”
Among the films found in Vinegar Syndrome’s catalog are “Body Melt,” which was released in 1993, and “Rad,” released in 1986. “Body Melt” stars Gerard Kennedy and Andrew Daddo, and is an Australian horror film where a suburban cul-de-sac gets sent experimental health supplements that end up mutilating the residents’ bodies.
On the other end of the spectrum is “Rad,” starring Bill Allen and Lori Loughlin. “Rad” is about a teenager having to decide between racing in the town’s biggest BMX race for a $100,000 prize or taking the SAT to get into college.
Many of the films sold at The Archive would never get a chance to be re-released today because many streaming services don’t see a profit in it or don’t want to track down and restore the movies from their degraded film stock.
“Some come to streaming, and then they have certain rights issues, and then they leave forever,” Pennala said. “Then you go to watch a movie (and) you’re like, ‘Well, I could buy another streaming service to watch this movie,’ or maybe it’s not on any.”
A retail store like The Archive can also be where customers stumble on their new favorite film.
“You find these hidden gems that you didn’t know about before,” Pennala said. “You can always look up top 100 movies of the ’80s and then start knocking off things on the list, but nothing from this company is really going to be on that list. The amount of enjoyment that you get out of watching something like this can be as much or more than these A-list movies.”
The Archive staff feel like they’re a good fit in the Aurora- Colfax community.
“We celebrate all cinema here and are excited to meet the community,” Mercado said. “So come on in and visit us, and we’re happy to be here in Aurora.”
The Archive is open Wednesdays through Saturdays 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and can be contacted at 720-844-8503. More information on the Archive can be found at linktr.ee/archiveaurora.