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Sunday, January 20 , 2019, 3:53 pm | A Few Clouds 66º

 
 
 
 

Credits Roll for Video Shmideo

The Santa Barbara classic, a victim of high rent, the recession and online competition, has a colorful history.

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Jason Uliasz, who has owned the 22-year-old store for eight years, has decided to close up shop. Uliasz said he has been heartened by the flood of well-wishers. “Many are not even coming in; they’re just calling us to say they are sorry,” he said. (Rob Kuznia / Noozhawk photo)

When Video Shmideo opened 22 years ago, the owner told the two employees of his two main rules: Never let complaints reach his ears, and, more importantly, never take any crap from customers.

If that sounds like the business plan of a man who doesn’t have designs on making money, that’s because it was.

The late Will Wickwire was an independently wealthy eccentric who viewed starting a video store as a hobby, not a business.

Jason Uliasz, who has owned the store for eight years — and who was one of those two employees — doesn’t share that same luxury. As a result, he is closing the shop at the end of the month.

While manning the counter Thursday afternoon, Uliasz said he has been heartened by the flood of well-wishers since news of the impending closure broke earlier this week.

“Many are not even coming in; they’re just calling us to say they are sorry,” he said. “It’s been one of those ‘restore your faith in humanity’ kind of days.”

Like many video stores, Shmideo, at 11 W. Victoria St., is the victim of high rent, the recession and online DVD rental companies such as Netflix. Now, Uliasz, a 37-year-old father, said he may seek work outside of Santa Barbara.

He declined to say what kind of work he’ll seek, but he said it most likely won’t be in the movie-rental industry.

“There’s not really much of a field right now,” he said.

Uliasz and the other employee who worked under Wickwire — Ben Romo, now an administrator for the Santa Barbara County Education Office — viewed the man as a father figure.

Both also viewed him as “nuts.”

“But in a good way,” Uliasz said.

Speaking by phone, Romo recalled how the crew used to delight in badgering their customers.

The employees regularly razzed one poor guy — whom for some reason they nicknamed Abe — for being smelly, even though he wasn’t.

On any given Friday night, when Abe entered the packed store, “Will and I would obnoxiously question in a very loud voice, ‘What’s that smell? What is that horrible smell?’” Romo said.

On at least one occasion, their shenanigans ended with Wickwire spraying poor Abe with the contents of an aerosol can.

Occasionally, they would put fortune cookies in the candy dish, but replace the factory-made messages with their own forecasts, which included predictions such as, “You will die a firey death” and “You will be lost at sea.”

Once in awhile, just for fun, the employees would forcibly remove a customer from the store.

However, the good times ended tragically, when Wickwire died of AIDS a few years after the store opened. Romo and Uliasz were still in high school.

Video Shmideo was put on probate, and was purchased by Jim Kearns and Brendon Searls. Romo moved on, but Uliasz stayed on, and eventually started purchasing shares of the company. Seven to eight years ago, he became the full owner.

Like Romo, Uliasz remembers the hijinks of the old days with fondness, but added, “The way we worked back then would not work now.”

Still, some vestiges of those crazy days remain.

A note on the countertop informing customers of the closure reads: “Dear Shmidiots.”

Write to [email protected]

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