Grindhouse Video and The Vinyl Countdown — new hubs of Tampa fringe culture

Tampa's two new indie shops go against the flow in nearly every way.

click to enlarge The Vinyl Countdown crams a lot into a little space. - The Vinyl Countdown
The Vinyl Countdown
The Vinyl Countdown crams a lot into a little space.

Even in the age of Netflix and Spotify and Facebook, places are important for culture and creativity. Record and video stores used to rank high as spots for artists and fans to meet, share ideas, and build communities. But with the rotting husks of abandoned Blockbusters and Tower Records dotting the landscape, video and music retail is clearly no longer the formula for anyone to make a fortune, and we've lost more than commerce with the collapse of those businesses.

That makes it all the more amazing that this month, Tampa saw the opening of both a new video store and a new record shop. Even more incredibly, they’re right next door to each other, near Seminole Heights.

Grindhouse Video bills itself as a home for horror, exploitation and underground cinema. It started as a flea market stall before moving into its new closet-sized space at 1743 W. Hillsborough Ave. The goal is for the store to carry an even larger selection of obscure films, but around half the current stock is more standard, but high-quality fare. I stopped by over the weekend for their Grand Opening and ended up walking away with a huge stack of DVDs, including copies of The Shining and Pacific Rim to go along with cult finds like Death and the Compass and The Fog.

With used prices mostly ranging from $4-$8, there are tons of discs here that you’ll want to own – I think I’m not alone in my increasing dissatisfaction with all my movies living on a hard drive. There are also new copies of truly obscure discs, including offerings from local filmmakers. And if you happen to own a VHS player or, even rarer, a Laserdisc deck, Grindhouse has a huge selection of tapes and discs, some of them titles you’ll probably never see anywhere else (and certainly not on Netflix).

The Vinyl Countdown sits just next door at 1745 W. Hillsborough, in another closet-sized space behind Thunder Road Comics (these nested mini-shops remind me a lot of how hyper-specialized stores sit next to and inside one another in Tokyo). Despite the hair-metal pun in its name, the shop specializes in punk and indie rock, and its racks are full of impressive rarities, from Sonic Youth cassettes to rank upon rank of seven-inches from no-name wonders. It’s like stepping back in time a decade (The good news is the staff are friendlier now).

It’s not easy to make any kind of business work in this day and age, and these two upstarts have chosen among the most difficult kinds. If you value the benefits that places like this provide for artists and fans, head out and show some support. Because you can’t download community.

Thunder Road Comics, The Vinyl Countdown, and Grindhouse Video are located at 1745 and 1743 West Hillsborough Avenue, and open noon to 8 p.m. most days. More or less. Probably.

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