Five Star Flickers Out on University, Still Shines Brightly on Solano

Gar Smith
Friday February 26, 2016 - 06:31:00 PM

There's a special shock that chills the urban soul. You've felt it if you've ever made a pilgrimage to a favorite, long-time hangout—be it a restaurant, a bookstore, a boutique or a bar—only to discover the doors locked, the lights out and the enterprise suddenly, unexpectedly, inexplicably gone.

If you felt that familiar "disturbance in the force" recently, it could have been caused by the demise People's Coffee and Tea on Downtown Shattuck. Or it may have been the bittersweet vibes that marked the last call for Berkeley's Inkworks, the activist print collective that bowed out after 42 heroic years on February 20.

Or it could have been an emotional ripple from the closure of Berkeley's beloved Five Star Video at the corner of University and Sacramento, which pulled the plug on Sunday, February 21.

Fortunately, Five Star's larger operation on Solano Avenue in North Berkeley is still open for business—with offerings of tens of thousands of DVDs—mainstream, cult, rare, and eclectic—from the US and around the planet.  

When owner Andy Katz relocated and expanded Five Star's Solano quarters in August 2012, a Berkeleyside reporter asked why he was bucking the tide and expanding operations when other DVDealers were bowing out under the pressure from online competitors. 

"Why not be contrarian," Katz replied. "You can't go on Netflix and say: 'Tell me what's a good movie.'" Five Star was the kind of place where you could ask that question—and, more often than not, find yourself engaged in a long, fascinating exchange with knowledgeable fellow film-freaks. 

Winding Up the Last Reel 

But the years—and the Invisible Hand-held Cudgel of the Marketplace—has taken its toll. "After 23 years," Katz says, "It's time to call it quits." 

"That's life! That's the way it is," Katz told the Planet as he took a breather from breaking down the racks and shelves at the University venue. But he hastened to add that the old site isn't gone quite yet. 

"We'll be having a huge sale of our entire DVD collection," Katz told the Planet. "It's going to be a first-come-first-served basis. Hopefully, the store will be fairly organized so those special discs won't be too hard to find." 

A three-day weekend blow-out sale is set for March 11-13 at the University Avenue location and will run from 10AM-to-5PM daily. In addition to thousands of DVDs, Five Star has announced that furnishings and fixtures will be for sale, too. 

"The sale will offer up all of the titles that were for rent and the prices will be VERY good," Katz told the Planet. "As you know, we specialized in just about every genre we carried and everything must go. Prices will be lower than those found at local resellers and, should a customer want to purchase massive quantities of DVDs and BluRays, further discounts will be offered." 

Any DVDs that remain will go to charity, Katz explained. "I intend to give all the remaining 'kids' and 'family' DVDs to Childrens' Hospital in Oakland. When we transitioned from VHS to DVD, all of the 'kids' tapes went there. That’s where they will do the most good." 

Five Star also is looking for volunteers with trucks or "a reasonably priced hauling service" to help remove any unsold furniture and fixtures. 

While the University Avenue haunt certainly will be missed, the Solano store (at 1882 Solano Avenue between Fresno and The Alameda) continues to carry the torch for fans of rental video. 

During a recent visit, the Planet asked the Solano staff how many movies they had in their collection. "17,000 titles!" grinned the young woman at the front counter. "But that's just titles," another staffer shouted from the back of the store. "If you count everything, including duplicates, we've got 20,000 DVDs!" 

Fond Remembrances 

If you have any doubt about what Five Star's University outpost meant to its customers, here are some random quotes from the store's Yelp page: 

"Their prices are reasonable and I feel better supporting them than giving my money to big corporations like Blockbuster and Netflix."



"I enjoy that you can "geek-out" with them about film, and the staff picks are almost always worthwhile." 

"Those who know me, know I am a complete film buff and very particular when it comes to selecting titles. Five Star Video has an unbeatable collection of films, all of which are impeccably organized." 

"Super-smart, sweet people behind the counter . . . . I love my neighborhood video store. Viva our DVD player!" 

"Really knowledgeable and helpful people . . . Plus a bubble gum machine for the kids." 

"Five Star Video is also dog friendly! They even keep dog biscuits on hand at the checkout counter!" 

"This independent video store is amazing and holds a great amount of love for films and customers, so, stop by and show Five Star Video some love…." 

Note: The Solano store continues to honor two of Five Star's favorite traditions—the free gumball machine for kids and complimentary dog biscuits for four-footed film fans.