The opening of Vidiots has been a long time coming — back in 2019, Variety reported the reopening of the Santa Monica video rental store and its move to the historic movie theater, The Eagle Theater, in Eagle Rock. But nearly four years later, Vidiots has yet to open.
According to Patty Polinger, the co-founder of Vidiots, it all began in 1985 when her and her childhood best friend, Cathy Tauber, came across an Esquire article discussing new alternative video stores that were popping up across the country.
“We were fed up with working for other people,” Polinger said. “We had just gotten VCRs and we were really frustrated with the lack of choice that we had. And that’s when we saw an article in Esquire magazine that talked about these other stores around the country. And we were like, how come there’s nothing like that here? That sort of sparked the idea. We were off and running.”
For 32 years, Vidiots sat on Pico Boulevard, offering their community a vast collection of films to rent. But according to Pollinger, there was always looming financial stress.
“We were constantly trying to reinvent ourselves,” Polinger said. “When we first expanded, we put in a coffee bar, and we didn’t like that idea too much because it was a lot of people hanging out and not spending money. We sold CDs at one time. And then in 2010, we built a screening room and called it the Annex… David O. Russell suggested that you’re not going to make it unless you completely go nonprofit.”
In 2012, Vidiots transitioned to a 501(c) nonprofit organization. Despite this, in 2017, according to Polinger, the conditions in Santa Monica made it impossible for Vidiots to stay.
“Our landlord was going to increase the rent,”Polinger said. “The whole area was changing. Our audience was aging. We just weren’t getting new energy into the store.”
Maggie Mackay came on the Vidiots team as executive director in 2016. Mackay has a long history with the art and film non-profit world, from Sundance to the American Film Institute. When Mackay joined the team, she had her work cut out for her.
“I tried very hard to keep it in Santa Monica,” Mackay said. “But I knew pretty quickly that the way to create sustainability and longevity for Vidiots was not to somehow keep it what it was or retract it in some way, but to massively expand it — and to expand it in a way to fill a cultural gap.”
One of the primary sources of the Eagle Rock opening delay has been the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the global supply chain, Mackay said.
“The supply chain is still pretty unpredictable,” Mackay said. “We’ve had some things that have been on their way to us for quite a long time and they’re still not here and we really can’t open without.”
According to Mackay, issues also arose early on in Vidiots’ permitting process and their obtaining of a Conditional Use Permit (CUP). Vidiots needed a CUP to sell beer and wine in their theater as well as the ability to operate past traditional business hours that the Eagle Rock neighborhood is expected to adhere to. According to Mackay, this is usually an easy process, but issues with a zoning commissioner and their lack of understanding of the foundation led to miscommunication.
“Our first zoning administrator that we were assigned to made some egregious mistakes in interpreting our business and then applying conditions to our permits that were out of line with what we do and how we operate,” Mackay said. “Those initial conditions would have made it infeasible for us to sustain financially, and it would have been very disruptive for the neighborhood.”
According to Mackay, these mistakes included requirements for state licensed security, or an armed security officer, and the rejection of expanding parking spots. After these initial conditions were set, according to Mackay, Vidiots began preparing an appeal to the East Los Angeles Area Planning Commission (ELAAPC); then, The Eagle Rock Association (TERA) stepped in.
Greg Merideth has been a part of TERA for 11 years, serving as the organization’s president for the past eight years. According to Meredith, the organization has long been a supporter of the project.
“When TERA first heard Vidiot’s plans to take over the then-vacant Eagle Theatre we were ecstatic,” Merideth said via email. “We felt that this type of use would be a great addition to the Eagle Rock community as well as a wonderful opportunity to restore the rundown theater to its original purpose.”
Merideth said the zoning administrator applied conditions which TERA felt were unreasonable in his grant.
Merideth said the ELAAPC granted TERA’s appeal, although an Eagle Rock resident subsequently filed a lawsuit regarding that decision. The court decision ruled against the neighbor but found that the ELAAPC needed to provide better findings that supported their decision against the original zoning commissioner.
In a public hearing Feb. 8, ELAAPC gave space for public comment. Only one caller expressed disapproval against Vidiots. Thirty-three other callers offered support and enthusiasm for Vidiots.
Mackay said she did not have an exact date for when Vidiots will open, but Eagle Rock residents can expect to welcome their new neighbor sooner than they think.
“There will be good news announced quite soon,” Mackay said. “We will open in 2023.”
Correction Feb. 16 at 6:57 p.m.: Updated to reflect the correct spelling of Greg Merideth’s and Patty Polinger’s names.