ONE of the last video rental shops in the UK has been turned into Britain’s smallest cinema — a ‘mini-ma’, if you will.
20th Century Flicks has kept going due to the dedication of its staff, despite the rising popularity of Netflix and illegal streaming sites.
The tiny Bristol-based film rental shop houses the UK’s largest collection of movies, with around 20,000 stashed on the shelves.
Last year it produced only £160 profit after wages, with lots of people coming in to admire the collection — or stroke the cat — but just one or two per week actually renting a film.
Using his amateur carpentry skills, however, co-owner David Taylor, 38, has found a novel way to boost business — by creating not one but two micro-cinemas, one of which seats just 11 people.
The smaller of the two intimate screening venues is called The Kino and David describes it as ‘Twin Peaks-based’; the other, slightly larger one is The Videodrome, which seats 18 — and both venues are proving popular with a variety of punters, from film buffs to hen parties and amateur movie-makers screening their own work.
David describes the set-up as being ‘like a jukebox’, with customers browsing the shelves to choose what they want to screen.
‘It is very informal,’ David said. ‘The quality of the picture is very good. I’ve not heard of anyone else doing anything similar.
‘Some rental shops sell film memorabilia, a bit like Lonely Planet. Some have branched into selling vapes, but I wanted to stay within my area of expertise.’
David says the venture is a ‘labour of love’, describing how he and two other members of staff bought out their old boss in 2010 because ‘he just wanted to get away from it, in exchange for us paying an overdue VAT bill’.
‘We worked for free quite a lot, doing other jobs as well,’ he said, adding: ‘Everyone just puts in more than they should do, no-one wants to see it struggle.’
But now the cinema makes up the bulk of the shop’s revenue.
‘The cinema thing has enabled us,’ David said. ‘It is the majority of our income.’
David takes pride in helping customers find a film they will enjoy watching, and says it is still cheaper to rent a DVD or Blu Ray film from the shop than through Amazon Prime or another online provider.
‘We can save them that time of watching something, then switching it off,’ he said. ‘We are less than half the price of rental online.
‘Netflix has got so much but they don’t archive stuff. They keep getting rid of it.
‘Netflix is fine if you don’t really care what you’re watching, you just want to switch off and watch TV.
‘We are there for people who choose what they want to watch. They might want to watch all the back catalogue of a director… You wouldn’t be able to find that without using torrents.’
Customers have a two-hour time slot to use the cinemas, and they browse the shelves beforehand, choosing what to watch.
‘It is more like a jukebox; you get a two hour slot and often people will go to the pub beforehand to think about what they’re going to choose.’
Seats were donated to the Videodrome by nearby theatre the Hippodrome, and despite the old-fashioned ethos, the youngest member of staff is just 17 years old.
‘I think it reminds people of a different era,’ David said.