Thomas Video, the First Video Store in U.S., Is Shutting Down

May 19, 2014, 2:51 PM by  Allan Lengel

Quentin Tarantino, and co-owners Gary Reichel and Jim Olenski

The iconic Thomas Video of Royal Oak, which bills itself as the first video store in the U.S., is shutting its doors after 40 years of business.

How well-known is it?

Director Quentin Tarantino, who was in town this past weekend, stopped by the store twice to buy a bunch of movies from the 1960s and 70s on VHS, says co-owner Jim Olenski. 

Olenski, 60, tells Deadline Detroit that, sadly, the evolving entertainment industry is forcing him to close. He said he'll stay open for about another month or so until "we've sold as much as we can sell." 

"We've been losing money for so long, we should have closed down a while ago, but my love of the business prevented me from making the right decision," he said. "We've been losing money for at least six years."

He said he had been customer of the store when it opened in 1974. He said he bought a Super 8 mm film, Citizen Kane, for around $200 in the mid-1970s.

He was going to Oakland Community College and was toying with the idea of becoming a filmmaker. But that never came to be.

He started working at the video store in 1975 and a few years later bought half the business, from owner Dennis Thomas. In 1982, when Thomas divested the remainder of  his interest, Olinski took in an employee and good friend, Gary Reichel ,as a partner. Both attended Clawson High School.  

There was never a shortage of films to sell.

"Through the last four decades, Thomas Video’s gigantic rental library of over 50,000 movies brought customers from all over the metro Detroit area and beyond," a store press release said. "While most local video stores made it possible for people to see old films they loved, or new films they missed, Thomas Video went a step further and also offered obscure films, making it a destination for movie lovers and film scholars alike, and gaining national recognition for the breadth of its holdings and the expert knowledge offered by its staff.

The original store, which opened in 1974 on 14 Mile Road in Royal Oak,  initially sold 8 and 16 mm films. In 1977, it started selling videos on Betamax and a few months later, on VHS. Eventually, within a couple years, they started renting the films as well as selling them.

The store moved to Main Street in Downtown Clawson in 1991, and then about six years ago, moved to its current location at 4732 Rochester Road , just south of 14 Mile Road.

"We're movie fans," Olinski said. "We like talking about movies with customers. And we enjoy movies ourselves."

This won't spell the end of his ties to the entertainment world.

He said he and his business partner are members of an old punk rock bank called Cinecyde,  He says their recording 1977 ,"Gutless Radio," was considered the first punk record out of Detroit.

How's he going to feel without the store?

"It's been a wonderful, fun thing to do," Olinski said. "I'm certainly going to miss it, but I'm not going to miss losing money."




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