AURORA | The first time Harley Hirsch walked into the Blockbuster-style video store near the intersection of East Alameda Avenue and South Chambers Road, he was there to close it.
It was 2000, and Hirsch was working for a video liquidation company that would later shutter between 400 and 500 stores in the U.S. and Canada, he said.
But since 2014, Hirsch has owned and protected the store called Video Video.
“I tell people where I’m working at,” Hirsch, 62, said with a chuckle. At his counter, he’d just received a stack of horror movies for the Halloween season including “The Exorcist” and “Trick or Treat.”
“I say, ‘The video liquidation.’ And they say, ‘Oh, the one that’s been going out of business for 10 years?”
Video Video is something of a unicorn in Aurora, where few — if any — legitimate video stores still exist. Brick-and-mortar video stores were annihilated years ago by online movie streaming services, leaving only memories of browsing long aisles of DVDs and stressing over rental return dates.
Hirsch says he’s personally resurrected Video Video from not just one closure, but two.
But business is still good, said Hirsch, the Bennet resident and one-man show running Video Video. The enormous store is the real deal: Hirsch says he has 70,000 DVDs, plus some VHSs, in long rows of shelves. He only sells merchandise, unlike the Blockbuster rental stores of yesteryear. And reminiscent of evenings spent in your local video store — since relegated to nostalgia — movie memorabilia dots the space, and candy tempts at the check-out counter. There’s even an adult video section, quarantined by a black curtain.
Hirsch looked around the shop and laughed at his fate. The Iowa native didn’t think he’d land in Aurora, he said.
Before settling here in 2014, Hirsch owned two video stores in Iowa from 1989 to 1999, he said. Trouble with digitalizing the inventory led him to shutter the two stores just before the millennium.
He turned to selling his stock on eBay, he said, and made decent profits — until he ran out of movies.
So Hirsch turned to an industry that he said would thrive for the next decade: Buying out dying video stores, liquidating the stock and shutting the doors if the writing was on the wall. Beginning in 2000, he worked for the Florida-based Phoenix Restructuring Group, he said.
That’s when he came to Aurora with orders to liquidate the video store — then called Video Pursuit, he said.
“This store was in liquidation mode,” he recalled. “We put banners up to close it, and the CEO says, ‘Man, it’s still doing so good, let’s just take the banners down and keep it open,’ he said of the company decision.
“It was like crying wolf. ‘Oh, this store is going out of business.’ That was always the joke of the city,” he said.
But video stores nationally fell by the wayside. By 2013, all corporate-owned Blockbuster stores in the U.S. were set to close. New online streaming giants such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video brought video selections right to people’s couches.
Hirsch said Video Video is not the last video store in Aurora, naming chain 2nd & Charles and local shop D’Angelo’s CDs & More as other places to stop in and browse physical DVDs. Other area video stores are adult-centered, including Pleasures and Romantix.
But how has Hirsch survived the dying industry?
“I don’t know,” he said coyly, leaning on a shelf of DVDs in his store Tuesday afternoon. A few people browsed items, including several older men who ducked into the adult video section.
He says he tries to cater to people’s needs, ordering seasonal flicks and movies that people are specifically looking for but can’t find.
But he’s also got some insurance policies. Hirsch slings videos online on Ebay, especially adult videos that he says aren’t selling very well anymore. The store also includes a small thrift section of used clothes and random items.
But his “retirement fund” is a back room filled with assorted items. There, Hirsch is holding on to 10,000 books — just half of his total collection, still in the wrappers — and items he’s found in abandoned storage units.
The gold mine, he says, are boxes chock-full of little ceramic statutes of cats.
Hirsch said he’s only got a few more years in him to run Video Video. He’s hoping to retire in four years with the help of the books and cats.
If Video Video can last that long, he added, with a laugh.