In Crown Heights south of Eastern Parkway, a stretch of Rogers Avenue is quietly buzzing. Most recently, an art house movie theater named Video Revival has opened, hidden inside a former beauty salon and barbershop storefront, on Rodgers Avenue between Sullivan Place and Montgomery Street.
Located just an avenue away from what used to be the stadium of the Dodgers, Ebbets Field, Video Revival is in the middle of an area that is ripe for a rebirth. While there are some reminders here and there of the former presence of the baseball team that was once the pride of Brooklyn, what is most noticeable is the massive housing project that took its place – also called Ebbets Field.
The stadium demolition in 1960 and subsequent haphazard construction has created a strange urban fabric of parking lots, fast food joints and warehouse spaces that seems surprising for an neighborhood just at the edge of Prospect Park. Only a year ago, the New York Times described this exact section of Rogers Avenue as full of “battered-looking storefronts [that] speak of miracles and end times,” referring to the high concentration of churches here. But if you look at real estate prices in the southern part of Crown Heights, you’ll see that there’s interest here for sure.
Video Revival joins some early arrivers like The Food Sermon, a Caribbean food spot perfectly designed to welcome the new up and comers who are moving in, as well as the existing residents. Last year, the New York Times pronounced the arrival of the Food Sermon in almost blessed terms: “…the Food Sermon, standing on a corner with its windows shining and its name in letters as yellow as the noon sun, may be mistaken at first for a sleeker, more modern place of worship. Perhaps that’s no mistake, if you consider food a matter urgent for the soul.” Two blocks up, there’s the bridal shop Pantora Bridal, holding onto two storefronts. And just next to Video Revival, a new cafe opened up last weekend.
What ties all these places together is community. Crown Heights is a place where residents pop up in and out of storefronts like Video Revival, out of curiosity. People say hello and sit together on the streets. A small boy has been so excited about Video Revival, he comes in regularly. “This is my movie theater,” he excitedly exclaimed repeatedly, choosing a seat from one of the 25 in the small theater, before his mother nearly had to drag him out of there. An elderly woman who lives nearby also came in to check out what was going on.
Video Revival had a simple impetus – a movie theater closer to the area where the founders, Christian Hendricks, Erik Escobar and Hollis Johnson, live. Escobar lives around the corner and Hendricks lives in Bed-Stuy. Going to BAM, Court Street United Artists or the theater down Flatbush was just too far and the offerings not always desirable. They want to revel in and share their penchant for indie, art house films – though Escobar admits that they are currently limited to showing films that are easy to obtain the rights to.
Video Revival is working with its neighbors, like Rawlston Williams of The Food Sermon, and the owners of the new cafe next door to find ways to collaborate and serve the community. Williams, of Caribbean descent told the Times of his restaurant, “As soon as you open a place in a community, it’s not yours any more, it’s theirs,” finding that the restaurant is a way for him to give back to those that helped him along his journey.
And Andrea Pitter, the CEO and designer of Pantora Bridal told Our BK Social last year, “Before you go out and make another community beautiful – you make yours beautiful.” Pantora Bridal opened in 2009 and last year, the flower girl line, Pantora Mini opened across the street. Pitter is a native of Crown Heights, with Jamaican roots.
But a storefront like the one at Pantora or Video Revival is getting more and more difficult to find for the right price. Escobar tells us said that they looked at several places and the prices were already beyond their budget. The landlord at their spot at 346 Rogers Avenue seemed more open to what the venture could bring and offered a few months of free rent. Still, they’re not riding on their coat tails – one of their immediate priorities is to make rent, Escobar says. The other is to make it a little less hidden: “Number one: Look open, look like our storefront isn’t closed.”
The space, though mostly empty when they received it, still needed quite a bit of work to transform it into Video Revival. Escobar says, “You know how when you use a lot of hairspray regularly, everything is covered in sticky dust? [It was] like that.” The room behind the screen used to be a hair washing room and they had the fun job of cleaning out PVC pipes that used to connect to the drain, which were just stuffed with hair.
The auditorium style chairs come from a church in Philadelphia, found on Craigslist. The team drove down to get it in a Uhaul, picked the chairs up disassembled and reassembled everything in Crown Heights. The sea foam green color of the upholstery happened to match the color of the walls in the entrance, which they painted before they found the chairs.
The team at Video Revival hopes to program a series on Caribbean films. They also are thinking to to transform the theater into a rentable space for locals and school groups on off hours. They also hope to get a grant writing team on board to create an educational program.
Out on the sidewalk, residents were seated on benches and on whatever street furniture they can find. The elderly woman who popped in to Video Revival came back to show the film schedule with a friend from the neighborhood. The neighborhood needs a place like this, she said, upon leaving.
Upcoming September movies include Jawbreaker, Night on the Galactic Railroad, Dogs in Space, and Troop Beverly Hills. Check out the calendar here and sign up for their newsletter to get advance notice of the monthly film schedule.
Next, check out what’s left of Ebbets Field in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.