After long run, Berkeley’s last video-rental store gets ready to close

“Our regular customers are getting older and no-one is filling the vacuum on the younger end,” said Andy Katz, owner of Five Star Videos on Solano which will close this summer. Photo: Emily Dugdale

It’s the end of an era as the curtain comes down on Five Star Video on Solano Avenue in Berkeley, the city’s last surviving video-rental store.

The store will close on June 17 to prepare for a liquidation sale to be held from July 13-15, according to owner Andy Katz who has been in business on Solano Avenue for a total of 38 years, six at Five Star’s current location at 1882 Solano (between The Alameda and Fresno).

Katz said his lease is coming up for renewal and he decided, even after having had a good year, that it was time to end his run, anticipating that sales would see more decline over the next year or so.

“Our regular customers are getting older and no-one is filling the vacuum on the younger end,” he said Tuesday.

Five Star’s original Solano Avenue store was in Albany and it moved up the street to Berkeley in 2012. A second store, at 1550 University Ave., shuttered  in 2016 after 23 years of doing business there.

Despite its apparent anachronistic offering, with services like Netflix now bringing streaming, on-demand movies straight to people’s TV screens and computer screens, the Berkeley video-rental store lived up to its name by garnering many five-star reviews on Yelp from its customers.

Many spoke of how they loved supporting an independent small business, appreciated access to hard-to-find indie films or of the nostalgia of entering a store and getting movie recommendations from real live people — all of which no doubt contributed to its longevitiy. They praised the store’s knowledgeable staff and well-curated film collection.

“They … don’t judge my eccentric movie tastes which is always a plus! And, what you’re looking for is almost always there,” wrote Eli B last year.

While Jane M. from Albany spelled out the reasons she loved the store in something of a eulogy penned in 2015: “5 stars … [is] super special. Sure you can rent a movie with your remote (and you can pay more). Sure you can skip the drive (or walk) up the hill in the gorgeous setting sun light, but that would be a mistake. Sure it’s all easier BUT you also might miss: hearing about a film that is crazy special, recommended by knowledgable staff member; running into the kindergarten friend and your son and he having some giggles; chatting up neighbors in aforementioned beautiful light; being treated kindly by super smart sweet people behind the counter; and for the epic win this week? When the small child flips out because the promised gum-ball machine has gone missing, the super sweet guy digs into the back and the box and brings ‘one of each color’ to appease flipping out small person. And they all watch (and ohh and ahh) as he totally brightens with joy as I pass on this gift. I love my neighborhood video store. Viva our DVD player!”

Other Berkeley video-rental stores succumbed to competitive pressures far earlier that stalwart Five Star. In 2010, Front Row Video, also on Solano Avenue closed after 26 years in business, followed closely by the closure of Reel, operating for 14 years on Shattuck. Videots, on College Avenue in the Elmwood, also shuttered in 2010. National video-rental chain Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy that year too.

Katz mentioned that there is one more video store left locally, Video Room on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, but he fears they might not be far behind him. Although he added: “Maybe, like the way vinyl had a resurgence, the same will happen with video some day.”

Katz said he is not retiring but he is done with retail. “I have several projects in the works and I want to have some fun, too,” he said.