VHS and Chill

Frustrated and bored during the pandemic, a barber from Des Moines built an old-school video store in his basement. Just don’t forget to rewind.,

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Some planted a garden during the pandemic, others decluttered their closets. Brian Hogan, a father of two in suburban Des Moines, Iowa, built a video store in his basement. It was an act of pure whimsy, undertaken “out of necessity and boredom,” Mr. Hogan said.

Last fall, Mr. Hogan was fairly miserable. He’d had some health problems over the summer. The pandemic all but obliterated business at his barbershop. To top it off, his favorite local video store, Video Warehouse, where he had spent countless hours growing up, announced it was going out of business after 34 years.

It was during this personal rough patch that Mr. Hogan, 38, snapped, in a Midwestern dad sort of way, and came up with a home-improvement project “to keep my sanity,” he said.

“All these stores were closing and I was getting fed up with my own hoarding issue with film and not being able to find things,” he said, referring to his collection of around 5,000 DVDs, 1,500 VHS tapes and 400 Laser discs. They had long been piled on the kitchen counter, in his car, on mismatched media shelving. “You had to try and remember, ‘Where did I see that last?'”

ImageMr. Hogan browsing his collection of 5,000 DVDs, now organized by genre. Before, they were piled on the kitchen counter, in his car, on mismatched media shelves and everywhere else.
Mr. Hogan browsing his collection of 5,000 DVDs, now organized by genre. Before, they were piled on the kitchen counter, in his car, on mismatched media shelves and everywhere else.Credit…Kathryn Gamble for The New York Times

He added, “I spent a lot of days sitting in my chair hoping people would come and get their hair cut. I’d go home and catalog and start hanging shelves. It took my mind off things.”

In March, when his wife, Erin, created a Tik Tok account, @thevideobunker, and posted a clip of the basement video store, it went viral. Mr. Hogan’s Video Bunker became the pandemic lockdown version of the baseball diamond from “Field of Dreams” (which, coincidentally, is also in Iowa) — a half-crazy idea made manifest. The bunker even landed the couple in an episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live.

His wife has been pretty tolerant, Mr. Hogan said: “She recognized this was going to be a rough year. She saw the benefit to keeping me busy.”

A former construction worker, Mr. Hogan designed and built the space himself, converting what had been the bedroom of an older daughter who had moved out. He was able to buy shelving cheaply from stores that were closing. The main room houses DVD and Blu-ray, organized by genre and format. Off the main room is a smaller viewing room with VHS and Laser disc titles. There are a couple of recliners in there, a flat-screen TV and a couple of old tube TVs that he found on Facebook Marketplace.

The vibe is less Blockbuster or Suncoast and more like the mom-and-pop video stores found throughout the country in the 1980s and early ’90s. There’s a candy counter, a tape return slot, movie posters and memorabilia and a neon open sign. There’s a half-hidden adult section, on the very top shelf behind the counter.

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Mr. Hogan rescued the Tape Return sign from his local video store, which is closing after 34 years. Credit…Kathryn Gamble for The New York Times

Some retro details, like the wood paneling and faux-brick MDF walls, were already part of the house, a 1950s one-story ranch. Naturally, there’s a “staff picks” shelf — Mr. Hogan, his wife and their two daughters, Bickley, 19, and Stella, 13, each get to pick a title. Current picks include “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Night of the Creeps” (Mr. Hogan is a horror fan who co-hosts a podcast, the Fright Zone, devoted to the genre).

Does Mr. Hogan allow the public to rent his collection?

“It’s more of a time capsule,” meant for family and friends, he said. “Friends who come over get to pick out a movie and we watch it.”

Since becoming a hit on Tik Tok, Mr. Hogan has received overwhelmingly positive response, including from Dennis Dugan, the director of “Happy Gilmore” and “Big Daddy,” who mailed him a box of DVDs of his films to add to the inventory. This at a time when movie theaters are closed, few video stores are left in the country and we’ve all supposedly joined the streaming revolution.

“I was surprised that it took off the way that it did,” Mr. Hogan said. “I’m not surprised by the response. I spent a good part of my childhood in the video store. That was a Friday night thing. You didn’t just go to the video store. You went to the video store.”

He added, “My kids are old enough to have that rental store experience. They stream a lot, but they watch movies, too.”

Stella has already internalized one of the cardinal video rental rules. “She watched ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ in our viewing room,” the other night, Mr. Hogan said. “Not only was the tape back on the shelf where she got it from, but she ran it through the rewinder.”

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