Commercial relationships are, by definition, mercenary. However, it is common to develop a relationship with one’s physician, hair stylist, or bartender that transcends professional interest and enters into the personal. You don’t exactly think of them as friends, but you usually find them more trustworthy than many you do think of as friends. You disclose intimacies that you would never have told anyone else, and when you marvel at this later, you find that it was entirely appropriate. I never thought I would have such a relationship, nor might have many others in notoriously stand-offish Seattle. When I did it was, perhaps predictably, with my video store clerk. Even there I got a push, as he was no ordinary clerk but George Latsios, founder of Scarecrow Video, who died this month at the age of 44.
I first met George shortly after he established Scarecrow’s first location on Latona. My friend Mark lived close by and quickly discovered Scarecrow. It was the beginning of our aimless immediate post-college years, when we still thought "beer and some vids" was the best way to spend Friday night, especially if the vids were obscure and/or bizarre. I accompanied Mark to Scarecrow one evening and found this tall, lanky, motor-mouthed film geek behind the desk. George was the only employee back then, and he was open for 12 hours a day, seven days a week. I often found him snarfing a bit of pasta he had nuked in the microwave in back, but he always put it down to ask me what I was looking for or to tell me what he just got in. Scarecrow’s inventory is now the envy of the West Coast, but back then it was just a couple hundred titles, and its growth was often directed by customer request. It is with not a little pride that I can claim to be the proximal cause for Scarecrow’s acquisition of its VHS copy of The Wind and the Lion.
George occasionally took a paternalistic interest in what we rented. We had been known to select titles while visibly intoxicated, and while he never cut us off, he did bark exasperatedly once when we presented him with the cases for the first season of The Young Ones and Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day. Another evening, Mark and I strolled in and challenged George: "The uncut version of Videodrome at the Neptune isn’t weird enough for us; whaddaya got for us instead?" George had hired some extra staff by then, and one of them rumbled, "Give ‘em Suspiria, George." George held his chin in his hand, gave us an arch look, then quickly nodded and said, "Suspiria it is. Remember you have two days to return it, guys; pace yourselves."
When my French girlfriend moved to Seattle, one of the first places I wanted to take her was Scarecrow’s Foreign section. When we got our first apartment together, a primary consideration was a location within easy walking distance of Scarecrow (about a year after we moved in, Scarecrow moved to its current location in the University District). The extra floor space permitted perusal of Scarecrow’s exploding inventory, and although I didn’t get to chat with George much anymore, I still made the pilgrimage when lesser venues might have been more convenient. It was a sad surprise, therefore, to read about George’s financial and medical difficulties. When the store was bought by a couple of Microsoft employees two years later, I was overjoyed. I stopped by the store shortly thereafter and found George discussing expansion plans with the new owners. He immediately halted his conversation and introduced me to his benefactors, who clearly had their hearts (and their wallets) in the right place. As the investors returned to exploring all the nooks and crannies where inventory might be crammed, I followed George over to the espresso stand at the front of the store. George moved much slower due to the effects of either his surgery or the radiation treatments. "So the new owners are Softies, eh?" I said. "Oh no," replied George, "they’re real smart!" That was the last time I saw George.
Aaron assures me that the "All-American (Greek) Diner" is a staple Back East, a tradition of fierce immigrant assimilation and proud service. George came to introverted Seattle and found a niche for an exhaustively (if lovingly) stocked video store that welcomed film geeks and film neophytes alike. I’ll miss George for the role that he played in the development of my film appreciation, but perhaps a greater gift was the pride and joy that comes from being able to recommend a merchant or a tradesman based on more than merely good value. Cafés, bookstores, and video arcades may come and go like the sun in April, but we’ll always have Scarecrow.