Four Star Video Heaven has been a staple for Madison cinephiles since 1985. In addition to sating numerous movie cravings, the video-rental shop helped launch the careers of former employees like Dan Savage, writer of the nationally syndicated sex-advice column Savage Love and editorial director of Seattle's The Stranger. So when owner Lisa Brennan decided to throw in the towel, six employees refused to follow suit. Hoping to purchase the store, these staffers are doing a crowdfunding campaign through April 24.
The prospective buyers -- Nick Propheter, Helen Boldt, Lewis Peterson, Matt Hogan, Brittany Hofer and Andy Fox -- plan to turn Four Star into a worker-owned cooperative if their Indiegogo campaign succeeds. They seek $50,000 for an initial investment, which would help them renegotiate a lease at the end of April.
Beyond that, their mission is simple: to keep working at a place they believe in.
Fox calls Four Star a "cornerstone of downtown Madison."
"Our real motivation is not to make money for ourselves, but to keep this resource available to the public," he says.
Crowdfunding campaigns have become popular tools for local musicians and filmmakers, but bricks-and-mortar stores like Four Star face additional fundraising challenges. Though the prospective buyers affirm that the shop has a steady profit, and that they know how to run the business efficiently, they acknowledge that the building needs improvements and that the video library needs expansion.
"We should be able to focus our finances on preserving and augmenting this inimitable library," Fox says.
Should the funding campaign succeed, the group plan to upgrade the storefront at 449 State St. as soon as possible. According to Fox, this would include "remodeling the front of the store toward a research lounge with books for sale."
So how has Four Star hung on as video-streaming services like Netflix and Hulu have gained traction? Fox says that the shop is able to focus on film niches popular in Madison, and that its employees give the movie-browsing experience a personal touch.
"One reason we have outlasted other bricks-and-mortar stores is because of our focus on art movies, rare movies and just plain weird movies," Fox says. "While we won't deny that the convenience of streaming video is very popular, we can offer a genuine human interaction and an honest recommendation from someone who spends a lot of time with movies, as opposed to a computer program funneling a limited selection through an algorithm trying to guess what you like."
Fox adds that asking a knowledgeable human being for help can be more efficient than searching a database of titles on your own. After all, one of the biggest complaints about Netflix is that you're likely to spend as much time looking for movies as you do watching them.
"If you want something from us, there's no set of hoops you need to jump through. We're right here," he says.