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Known for Rare, Eclectic Film Collection, Thomas Video Ending 40-Year Run

“A little part of me has just died,” a customer posted after the owners announced their vast inventory of hard-to-find films would be liquidated.

Thomas Video will turn out its lights for the last time when its vast inventory is finally liquidated. The one-of-a-kind store is closing after a 40-year run in Royal Oak. (Photo: Facebook)
Thomas Video will turn out its lights for the last time when its vast inventory is finally liquidated. The one-of-a-kind store is closing after a 40-year run in Royal Oak. (Photo: Facebook)

Thomas Video, the go-to place for hard-to-find art and foreign films and cult classics, is ending its 40-year run in Royal Oak.

Competition from video-on-demand, Netflix and other movie-viewing platforms have been cutting into the store’s business for the last few years, co-owner Jim Olenski told the Detroit Free Press.

Thomas video was one of the first local pioneers in home videos when it opened in the late 1970s and Olenski, 60, and his business partner, Gary Reichel, 59, had hoped to be the “last video store standing,” Olenski said. “And we almost were.”

The owners announced the store’s closing on the Thomas Video Facebook page, prompting a string of comments that likened the shuttering to a death of an eclectic friend who opened vast new worlds.

“A little part of me has just died,” customer Jay Bliznick commented. “Thomas Video and its staff were important to me in my formative years of film geekdome. There would never have been a Chicago Underground Film Festival had Thomas Video not introduced me to the likes of John Waters, Richard Kern, Nick Zedd, and Alajandro Jodorowsky. Thank you.”

“Fond memories,” Sean Haezebrouck posted. “Thanks for existing.”

“ … Not only did you have the best movies but I love coming in and having you recommend movies to watch. Just not fair!” wrote Sandra Trumbo.

Trumbo hit on one of the important differences that separated Thomas Video from some of its big-box competitors.

Staff were hired first for their knowledge of cinema. “I’d begin by asking what their favorite movie was. If it was something like ‘The Terminator,’ I wouldn’t hire them,” Olenski joked with the Free Press.

The store, which originally opened as Thomas Film Classics on 14 Mile Road, originally specialized in Super 8mm films, which preceded VHS tapes. The store was located in Clawson for about 18 years before returning to Royal Oak and the current location in 2009.

The good news in the store closing was that all videos, including rare and out-of-print titles on Blu-ray, DVD, VHS and laserdisc will be sold. The going-out-of-business sale runs from noon to 9 p.m. daily.

George Barry, who directed a 1977 cult classic filmed in Detroit, “Death Bed: The Bed That Eats,” was among the customers who rushed to the store at 4732 Rochester Road to pick over the vast inventory. “Death Bed” was already gone, but he was hoping to grab one of the rare foreign titles from The Criterion Collection, which were going for $7 each.

“I will have to drive three hours to stop in,” Derwood Kuffski wrote on Facebook. “What is your last day so I can plan accordingly?”

Share a memory or tribute:

  • What’s your favorite memory of Thomas Video or the best film you ever found there? Tell us below in the comments.
RL May 01, 2014 at 07:31 AM
I am 44 years old and grew up in a world where computers were increasingly present in our lives and a useful tool. While no doubt disruptive, the pace of change brought on by computers in the ’80’s and ‘90’s was slower than the disruption now caused by the internet. I use the internet every day at work and home, but when I read stories like this, I regret the destruction caused by this technology. Another place where people discovered new things, gathered together, or that provided employment, fades away. Will we all end up huddling over our little machines in small rooms by ourselves?
Carol May 01, 2014 at 08:50 AM
I met the love of my life there (and he wasn't on video).
Beth Dalbey May 01, 2014 at 09:21 AM
Carol, tell us more!
norman lepage May 01, 2014 at 09:30 AM
interesting local fact about "death bed, the bed that eats" which was filmed and produced locally is that it starred birmingham restaurateur SAMEER EID of the PHOENICIA. of course he was much younger and better looking in those days.

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