I Becomes We
Local cinephiles at We Luv Video roll the tape on new Austin location
There's no "I" in I Luv Video. At least, not anymore. The cult video rental store in East Austin, widely known for its huge collection and the muraled exterior that made it a longstanding landmark, closed its doors in September of 2020. It had been a nearly 40-year run.
After all that time, the Austin community couldn't just let that 120,000-video collection fall apart. With the help of some folks on Kickstarter — 828 of whom raised a total of $112,494 — the business is back, now as the democratized We Luv Video. The charismatic former owner and founder of I Luv Video, Conrad Bejarano, is still involved in the project, but this time it's a "nonprofit movie mecca" that runs on monthly memberships.
Although the original location will no longer house the collection, We Luv Video is still maintaining a community space at a different destination. It will open on May 13 in its new home at 100 E North Loop Blvd., at the opposite end of the block from Epoch Coffee, sharing a building with the Tigress Pub. The new group only signed the lease in April.
At 6 pm on opening day, We Luv Video will have its first customer: Bejarano, an admitted serial video non-returner. Surely he will get a pass in acknowledgment of his contribution to the Austin film scene; Back in the '90s, when Blockbuster was putting local video rental stores out of business, Bejarano was making sure his collection stood out with unusual movies that weren't profitable for the corporate giant.
“It would bring me the utmost joy to pass the torch to a group or individual that has the financial capacity to preserve our immense catalog of films," quotes the website for Bejarano. "My only stipulation is that whomever does so gives the community access to our vast film library.”
The goals of the new space are at least twofold. First, it wants to bring back a culture of renting movies, which does sound like a tall order, but Austin is a weird enough place to try it. Second, it has a chance to preserve those weird films that major streaming services choose not to spend resources on.
"If these films and shows are not on streaming, they risk fading into complete and total obscurity," says another portion of the webiste. "Video libraries don’t just give us the chance to indulge in our nostalgia for the past, they also allow for the important preservation of media."
A third goal — not explicitly stated, but easy enough to infer — is to foster a physical place for movie lovers to get together. The new location will offer a "new rental experience" organized by genre, decorated with art and murals, and bolstered by team member recommendations. (People interested in becoming team members can submit a volunteer form.)
Like the former I Luv Video locations around town, which served pizza, this We Luv Video HQ will serve unnamed "movie snacks" and will host community screenings.
This collection claims to be the largest in the world, so it adds up that it might take a village to maintain it. The soft opening party on May 13 is free and open to the public. There will be an opening ceremony, drinks by Goodnight Loving Vodka and Lazarus Brewing, sets by DJ Double Heads, a screening of a surprise movie, and a preview of the organization's summer programming. RSVP via Eventbrite.
More information about We Luv Video is available at weluvvideo.org.