The caller on the other end of the line wanted The English Patient on Blu-ray, and with the efficiency that comes only from 38 years of experience, Alice Tardino found him a copy within minutes.
She made the sale, one of many as the last independent video store in Bucks County weathers its final summer. The Video Store, a Levittown mainstay, has been around since 1981, a time when its simple name was an obvious choice — it was the only place in town offering the strange new medium coming out of Hollywood.
Other stores came and went, national chains with exponentially larger budgets. But Tardino, 65, and her husband, John, held firm in their storefront, a throwback to a simpler, more analog time.
“This community means a lot to us,” she said. “It’s nice to be a place that they trust, that they can come in and get a service they can rely on, in a place they feel comfortable.”
The couple announced last week that the store’s final day of business will be Sept. 30, and that they’ll rent movies up until the last minute, or until their “retirement sale” liquidates the stock that remains.
It’s not a downturn in business that’s forcing their hand. As Netflix and Redbox rose up, the couple supplemented their rentals with a variety of services. John Tardino, 66, used his background in electronics engineering to create a robust photo-transfer business, converting customers’ deteriorating VHS or Super 8 footage to digital formats.
His wife became a notary, and local police departments started sending people her way for fingerprinting or passport photos.
The labor got to them, a solid three decades of working seven days a week. More recently, Tardino’s health has taken a turn. He declined to discuss specifics, but the illness required surgery, he said.
“Part of it is age; we want to try something else," he said. “We wanted to take it at a slower pace, focus more on my health rather than be in the store all the time.”
Customers have been supportive, if disappointed. The store’s social media has been flooded with anecdotes of people who visited the Video Store as kids, remembering Friday nights long past. One customer returned recently, his first time back since the store’s early days, when he bought a Betamax player.
“No one is indispensable,” Alice Tardino said. “But there will be a dearth of services here.”
Video rental stores are a niche industry, slightly below the record shops that have been reinvigorated in recent years. Within the region, there remain only a handful, notably CineMug in South Philadelphia and Viva Video in Ardmore.
“No one is moving to a new town and saying, ‘Where is the closest video store?'" said Miguel Gomez, the 39-year-old behind Viva Video. “It’s just not something that’s being sought out.”
Gomez’s store, opened in 2012, is quite literally a labor of love: He breaks even every month, making enough to keep the lights on and pay his employees. He works overnights as a nurse to sustain himself and his family.
He does it, he said, out of a sense of devotion to the video stores of old, and to the art of sharing and finding movies.
“It’s about creating an experience,” said Gomez, who previously managed a store in the now-defunct TLA Video chain. “It’s a lot like a record store, where you go in and say to someone, ‘I like this, where can I find other things like it?’ I don’t want to lose that."
The Tardinos were powered by a similar motivation. In the early days, they found a winning business model by supplying both the equipment and the movies.
That reputation carried them through the following years, with Alice developing a knack for finding obscure titles for their customers. She chalks it up to her background in accounting — auditing books taught her to “sift through and find the center.”
Those regulars still file in and express disbelief that soon, the store will be gone.
“We’ll miss the people, no question,” John Tardino said. “It was good to feel needed.”