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Got Movies? Silly Question

Video Vault moves to new location

Fear not, movie connoisseurs and buffs, the "Guaranteed Worst Movies in Town" video store is alive and well, just in a new location.

That label was laid on the Video Vault years ago by The National Enquirer for its limitless inventory of cult films, according to Jim and Jane McCabe, founders and owners. They immediately adopted it as their trademark slogan.

Located for years at 323 South Washington Street, the metropolitan area's most comprehensive video store is now situated on the lower level of 113 S. Columbus Street. And the McCabes are working hard to fit their 50,000 VHS and 10,000 DVD collection into their new, much smaller home. The previous location has been sold by its owners, according to McCabe.

"People have been complaining they can't find us," Jim McCabe noted. That's because their trademark sign has not been approved for display by Alexandria's Board of Architectural Review.

"We hope to gain approval for it to be put up on the building in August," McCabe said. "We do now have a banner on the front of the building," he said. But a potential customer must be directly in front to see it.

As with any business that changes location within the city, the McCabes had to make application to the BAR to receive approval to reaffix a permanent sign to the new location.

"It's appropriateness is judged in relationship to other business signs in the immediate area," said Peter Smith, staff to BAR, Planning and Zoning Department.

"I just figured if it [the sign] passed the first time on South Washington Street, where it was attached to an historic building, there would be no problem at the new location. But they told me I had to go through the approval process again," McCabe said.

"The next deadline to be listed on the docket for the August 18. BAR public hearing is July 19," Smith noted. "But we can give them a temporary grand opening sign immediately. We are able to do that for any business." Video Vault was forced to move on June 15 without much prior notice, McCabe revealed.

VIDEO VAULT'S traditional sign, now hibernating in the stairwell leading to the store's new entrance, is a dual logo-sign mounted on both sides of a V-shaped metal frame that was attached to the outer wall of the previous building. It enables potential customers to see it as they approach from two directions.

In business 19 years, Video Vault has been heralded as "the best video store" in the entire metropolitan area by Washingtonian Magazine in its "Best and Worst Picks for 2004." This has been seconded by Entertainment Weekly and Washington's two daily newspapers. It is also attested to by their nearly 31,000 loyal and laudatory members.

"We proudly hold membership number 3. I helped open their first store on Duke Street by putting flyers on car windshields and helping to stock that first location," said Alexandria resident, Tucker Eskew.

"I got to know Jim and Jane through Lee Atwater who knew them from South Carolina. I was working for the Reagan White House at the time. They are good people and keen business people in meeting a particular need. Old Town is a great market for an alternative video store," Eskew said.

AT ONE TIME the McCabes also had a store in Georgetown. That was where Sherri Walker first came upon their vast array of old movies, foreign films, and specialty offerings. "I haven't found anyone else who has the selections in foreign films as they do," the District resident said.

"I've been a customer for six years. When I was visiting a friend in Old Town I rediscovered them. I rent from them almost exclusively. It's well worth the trip to Alexandria," Walker said.

"We've been really lucky. We started this store to carry a different selection of movies. I became a real fan of classic movies back in South Carolina," McCabe said. "When we came here we noticed none of the video stores carried the real classic movies. At that time the big video store was Erol's."

Upon opening their first store they were considered a pioneer in niche movies. Now they offer both VHS and DVD's in a myriad categories such as family, action adventure, comedy, cult, scifi, western, documentary, and others, as well as new releases.

Anyone who went to the movies in the 30's and 40's can even find their favorite old serials that used to be featured, particularly at Saturday afternoon matinees, prior to the featured film. There on Video Vault shelves were Buck Rogers, the Green Hornet, Captain Marvel, and others.

"I bought my first VCR in 1977 and used to go to Erol's to rent films. Then, in 1985, I discovered Video Vault and never went back to Erol's," Foster Blair, acknowledged. He holds membership number 730.

"When Video Vault opened, Jim and I discovered we had a mutual love of old movies. I had started my own old movie collection. I also love their "Two for Tuesdays," Blair said. "I'm one of those people usually waiting outside on Tuesdays for them to open."

"Two for Tuesday" means a customer gets two rentals of any offering in the store for the price of one, according to Jane McCabe. "We started it when we first opened because Tuesdays seemed to be a slow day and the slogan rhymed. Then the industry started issuing new releases on Tuesdays. But we didn't want to change so we just kept it going."

Iris Bracey's introduction to Video Vault was purely accidental. "I saw their sign on Washington Street and just walked in to see what they had to offer. It was really their selection of foreign films that got me hooked. They have, by far, the best selection in the area," she insisted.

A CUSTOMER for eight years, Bracey is also a fan of old movies. "Their collection of old and classic films is phenomenal," she raved.

That assessment was buttressed by Teresa Miller, an Old Town resident and friend of the McCabes. "You can find classic movies there that you can not find anywhere else. They also have great employees who really know movies and their craft so they can help you," Miller pointed out. "I'll often rent a movie for someone who is ill rather than send flowers."

The friendliness and expertise of the staff is, in addition to the vast film library, what has kept Floyd Pittman, Alexandria resident and member of the Sheriff's Department, a loyal customer for 15 years. "Just talking with staff is a real treat.

"What originally drew me to the Vault was their ad that if they didn't have the film it probably couldn't be found. I had seen a lot of movies as a kid I really liked and wanted to see them again. They have had most everything I've wanted."

In 1990, the McCabes expanded their business to include rental by mail. "We now have members in all 50 states," Jim McCabe verified. "We take the order by phone and charge it to the customer's credit card. We package and mail the films and the customer mails them back."

Twelve years ago, the McCabes expanded their movie sales business to offer films over their Internet site, www.videovault.com. They have always offered movies for sale as well as rental locally.

One of their distant customers is Miller's father in North Carolina. "Video Vault and the McCabes are a vital part of this community," Miller said.