“I love movies. It’s still my candy store, and I’m the biggest kid in it.”
—Scarecrow Video founder and owner, the late George Latsios
In the early 90s, Scarecrow Video founder George Latsios would spend every Saturday night behind the counter of his store, offering movie recommendations to customers he knew by their first and last names, including young Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic of Nirvana. Scarecrow buyer for the last 25 years Mark Steiner fondly recalls his former boss and friend saying, “There was no other place George would rather be on a Saturday night.”
In the early 80s, Latsios started loaning out selections from his 600-800 title collection of giallo and horror VHS tapes through Backtrack Records and other locations. By 1995 Latsios and his then-wife/Scarecrow co-founder Rebecca Soriano had amassed approximately 26,000 titles (noted in the book Videoland: Movie Culture at the American Video Store). 1995 would also mark the year Latsios received a life-altering medical diagnosis—he had brain cancer and only six months to live.
At the time of his diagnosis, Scarecrow had been doing business at their 5030 Roosevelt Way North East location for several years and was in dire financial trouble. Instead of shuttering Scarecrow’s doors, Latsios focused on expanding the store’s video collection. He also aspired to open other stores not just in the U.S. but globally in destinations like Japan—one of Latsios favorite spots for buying trips. To some, Latsios’ spending habits and his aversion to paying taxes in a timely fashion appeared reckless. But as Steiner plainly states, this was far from the truth. Latsios was very “level-headed,” and those who knew him didn’t confuse actions driven by his passion for film as symptoms of failing health. Was George in denial about his spending habits? Perhaps a little bit. This chapter of Scarecrow Video’s history sounds like the plot of a gritty-yet-endearing film, which seems fitting as it illustrates Latsios’ love of cinema and his desire to share it with everyone. Here’s more from Steiner, who I spoke to in Scarecrow’s homey in-store screening room last week, on what made George Latsios tick:
“He spent money to curate the store he believed in. It was his baby, and we (the employees of Scarecrow) were all his family. He treated us generously like you would treat your actual family. We’d have meals together, and they were always special. If your paycheck bounced, he’d turn on a dime and ask you how much money you needed to tide you through and go get it from the till. One of the most telling things about George is when you consider the name “Scarecrow.” You see, the endearing Scarecrow was his favorite character in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz. He often wore an old t-shirt with the Scarecrow’s famous quote/lament “If I Only Had a Brain.” One of my favorite memories of George was the time a woman and her young teen daughter came to the store and struck up a conversation with him. At some point, the woman asked George to help her understand the difference between an R-rated film and an NC 17 one. After a brief pause, George replied, “An R-rating = titties with no bush, and an NC 17 rating = titties with bush.”
By 1999 Latsios was over-burdened with financial woes, and reluctantly put Scarecrow up for sale. Then, as if from a movie, two Scarecrow customers who happened to be making a pretty good living during the day over at Microsoft, John Dauphiny and Carl Tostevin, joined forces and bought the store. Though they told George they would love for him to stay on as long as he’d like, Latsios declined and moved back to his native Greece where he passed away at the young age of 44 in 2003. For three decades, Scarecrow has been a come-one-come-all custodian of pop culture for Seattleites and host to avant-garde and counter-culture heroes of the movie industry like John Woo, Troma‘s Lloyd Kaufman, Alex Cox, and Alejandro Jodorowsky. There was also the time director Quentin Tarantino, in town for the SIFF International Film Festival and without a car, called the store to ask for walking directions, noting he was “not going to take the bus, alriiiight.” Later, as Steiner was jawing with a friend while on his way to work, he noticed a very sunburned Quentin Tarantino striding up Roosevelt Way North East and into Scarecrow. During his visit, Tarantino asked permission to browse through the store’s vast library, which he did for several hours, later hanging out with the staff.
A very sunburned Quentin Tarantino hanging out at Scarecrow Video in 2001. Photo courtesy of Mark Steiner.
As a testament to Latsios’ unrivaled love of film, the vast majority of Scarecrow’s employees and volunteers have been working there for decades, ensuring Scarecrow can continue to provide access to the largest publicly accessible video collection in the world. A staggering selection of 130,000+ titles can be found inside, including thousands you can’t stream anywhere else (sorry, Netflix). Some titles in Scarecrow’s catalog can only be viewed on the premises, such as a series of John Frankenheimer television dramas gifted by the director personally, and Japanese 70s superhero series Spectreman on VHS in its entirety which is extremely rare. Latsios mused about Scarecrow being a candy store of sorts for film buffs, and I can attest from first-hand experience, it is absolutely a magical labyrinth full of motion picture treasures, including a well-curated selection of movie soundtracks you can purchase on vinyl. Films are expertly categorized not only by genres, but also by region of origin, director, and a dizzying array of sub-categories with intriguing classifications such as “Little Bastards” (anything small wanting to kill you), “Rock Hell” (heavy metal themed horror films), as well as both a “Women in Prison” and “Men in Prison” sections. Scarecrow has something for everyone. Even the extensive XXX section is broken down with care including by director.
As of this writing, the now non-profit is turning 30 and is in the midst of a fundraising campaign to help keep them in business for the long haul. Trust me when I say anything helps, including sharing this post to spread the word. Right now your financial contributions will be doubled thanks to a recent $25K donation from a generous Scarecrow supporter. I’ve posted photos of the store as well as some neat artifacts from Scarecrow’s past including a rare video that hasn’t been seen since the early 90s (and only then if you were watching the tube in Seattle), which drives home the importance of keeping Scarecrow, and other champions of pop culture like them, around.
Much more after the jump…