Cinema Revolution rents DVDs differently

East Isles resident and avid independent filmgoer John Koch said he was frustrated about seeing great films at the nearby Lagoon Theater but never finding them for rent at local video stores.

That spurred the determined consumer to action. Last October, Koch opened Cinema Revolution in a second-floor space at 2819 Hennepin Ave. S.

Koch said his goal is to highlight great directors and films from around the world. Koch organizes rentals by country and director, and wants to develop a section for local filmmakers. So far, his selection is small -- 650 DVDs -- compared to the average Blockbuster's 10,000.

Uptown resident Jesse Lawrence has been a regular since Cinema Revolution opened. Lawrence said he likes the store because it caters to his taste for hard-to-find works by Asian, French and German directors, with more widely available auteurs such as the locals Joel and Ethan Coen (a.k.a. The Coen Brothers).

A revolving revolution

What's in the name Cinema Revolution? "It's a revolution against corporate interests, but DVDs also revolve," said Koch, spinning his finger and grinning.

He said the name plays a big part in describing the business's philosophy, to revolt against all the things he doesn't like about large chain video stores.

Koch said that when he was poor and in school, he was often frustrated by corporate practices such as getting credit card numbers or blank checks before allowing customers to rent.

He instead collects driver's license information to turn over problems to a collection agency. So far, he has had only two problem customers.

Koch said thoughtful business practices are important, but his top goal is to offer customers a good movie selection. He said he's patterned his store after a Tucson store, Casa Video that he frequented while a University of Arizona student.

Koch describes Casa Video, as the "best movie store ever." To maintain a similarly high-quality selection, Koch doesn't buy lots of titles in bulk purchases to avoid having movies he wouldn't want to rent. "I'm very picky about what we have here," he said.

He said he also consults his employees/movie experts, Brian Roche and Bill Sobolewski, and researches ratings on sites such as the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com). "My goal is to never have anyone come back with a movie and say 'Wow, this is terrible. I wasted my money,'" Koch said. "I really want people to be happy with what they rent."

Koch said that, to him, part of what makes a good selection is offering renters exposure to local filmmakers, in turn giving those filmmakers a helping hand.

Uptown resident Josh Margolis produces a Minneapolis-based cable public-access sitcom called "Josh and Sandi," and Koch carries DVDs of the show. Koch said "Josh and Sandi" developed a sort of cult following with screenings at the Bryant-Lake Bowl, 810 W. Lake St., and Grumpy's, 1111 Washington Ave. S.

Margolis said that thanks to Cinema Revolution, he's gained additional local exposure and fans.

"I've heard from people who have rented the show, mostly through e-mail. So far, all have been positive, saying that they were happy to be able to rent locally produced work. The Cinema Revolution customers also often mentioned that they were loyal customers because they could find DVDs that weren't at your average Blockbuster or Hollywood Video," he said.

Even the competition approves, sort of. "Cinema Revolution? That's a great place," said a Minneapolis Blockbuster clerk who will not be named for reasons of job security.

Customers

Lawrence said selection is his main reason he regularly frequents the movie store on the second floor. "They cater to cinema as cinema is. (Cinema Revolution) doesn't patronize the audience," he said, because the store doesn't restrict adult content or themes like some chains.

Before Cinema Revolution opened, Lawrence said he bought movies online because the independent films were not available for rental.

Stevens Square resident Justin Jetty stumbled upon Cinema Revolution a month and a half ago. Before then, he said he also rarely rented movies because he couldn't find what he liked. "I'd go to video stores and see stuff like 'American Pie' -- I'm not into that," Jetty said.

He said he prefers independent, thought-provoking movies, such as Japan's 'Visitor Q' that he found at Cinema Revolution. "It's all good stuff. There's not a lot of junk," he said.

Jetty said he relies on the recommendations of staffers Roche and Sobolewski, who always make him feel welcomed. "A quarter of the movies I've rented have been on recommendations from them," Jetty said.

Since discovering Cinema Revolution, Jetty said he's hooked, renting six to 12 movies per week. Jetty said his high-volume rentals are partially due to his lifestyle and the store's specials.

"I work mornings, and if I ever go out, I never make it home in time to go to bed," he said. "So I stay home and watch movies."

Jetty added the store policy offering movie credit for early returns and the $20 monthly charge for 20 rentals encourage him to rent more. "Even if I'm broke, I have $20 worth of movies a month," he said.

For now, Koch said many of his nearly 650 renters are young moviegoers living in Uptown -- including many University of Minnesota students.

Sobolewski, a staffer who specializes in older titles, said because Uptown has younger residents, Cinema Revolution's customers reflect that. However, Sobolewski hopes older customers might be lured by older movie titles.

Down to business

Koch said he created Cinema Revolution with little money, a little help and a lot of elbow grease. He said after returning from college in Arizona, he attended the Minneapolis College of Art and Design before deciding to open the store.

Koch said he put in one-third of the startup costs -- approximately $8,000 -- then took out a business loan to cover the rest. The store opened in October with 400 movies and has added 250 more. Koch said he hopes to steadily increase the selection to around 5,000 someday.

Koch said the second floor space made an Uptown location affordable, but the mid-block location makes him think potential customers are passing him by. He said he hopes to be able to find a more accessible location when he can afford it.

Although he said starting the business wasn't too difficult, he admitted he also works as a graphic designer and in video production to supplement his income. "I've been working 70 to 80 hour weeks since July. It's been tough, but we're starting to get to the point where the stuff sells itself," he said.