When Charlie Albin opened a video rental store in Evanston this May, he began hearing unusual requests for movies. A few new customers at After Hours Movie Rental wanted to see films like Samuel Fuller’s White Dog, about a dog trained to be a white supremacist. Others wanted VHS movies going out of print, such as Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It.
But that’s the kind of challenge Albin loves. To meet his customers’ uncommon requests, he scours Web sites like eBay.
“The more obscure, the better,” he says. “It’s like a treasure hunt.”
Albin and his girlfriend, Karen Binor, own the store, which opened with 2,000 titles. Since May, they’ve more than doubled its stock. Although titles include mainstream releases, Albin says older and lesser-known movies are the most popular. “Everyone rents Trainspotting,” he says with a soft laugh, referencing the 1996 cult classic.
The front door of After Hours, at 833 Foster St., opens to baskets of free used books and copies of The Onion. There’s a TV playing black-and-white movies. Walk farther in, and the customer becomes enveloped in a small labyrinth of shelves.
Some sections have the standard labels, such as drama or comedy. But Albin categorizes other shelves by famous directors, musicals, classics and noir.
“It’s very easy to walk into a Borders or Blockbuster and know where everything is,” Albin says, “but there isn’t a lot of variety.”
Albin used to be a store manager for Blockbuster, but says its corporate nature frustrated him. “If someone asked for a movie we didn’t have, there was no way for us to get it,” he says. “They say they’re focused on the customer, but they’re not really.
“It’s a lot cooler to do research and find stuff that nobody else has,” he says. “It makes our store stand out.”
In his gentle voice, Albin speaks with a deep knowledge of film, although he often laughs a little embarrassedly after talking about it. If you ask him about his favorite movies, you won’t get a simple answer: His tastes are as varied as the store’s selection. “I can usually find something I like about anything, no matter how bad or good it is,” he says. “I tend to like old movies, the older I get.”
Senior Nat Kundanis-Grow has frequented After Hours for several months and said he enjoys Albin’s easy, friendly manner.
“I rented Dancer in the Dark and I got that nod of approval,” Kundanis-Grow said, referring to the movie with Bjork. “And you know, he doesn’t have to do that.”
Albin finally managed to track down a copy of She’s Gotta Have It. But because After Hours is a small store, Albin says there’s not enough money to hunt down as many of these hidden gems as he’d like. Still, his desk has a running list of movies he intends to buy in the future.
The treasure hunt might be a long one. But that’s okay with Albin: “It’s what I dig.”