Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: It would be a "5" for execution if they had more of what they have in stock.
The Long Version: Small video stores are great. They've been the subjects of songs, movies, and probably even books. But it's something that many people love in theory more than in practice: those big chains with the hidden charges and twenty copies of each of their twenty movies clobber the little independents over and over again.
But it didn't work that way in Toronto's Annex neighbourhood. The crowded shelves and aisles of the neighbourhood Queen Video created a thriving, vibrant contrast to the stark airport-corridor emptiness of the Blockbuster Video that was almost directly across the street. The massive American chain store - with its video games, great lighting, and no late fees - is now gone, with its sign pulled down in an attempt to make its defeat anonymous. Soon a new grocery store is about to take over it's space; hopefully it's better than the neighbourhood Dominion, but it would be hard for it to be any worse.
But back on subject: Queen Video is the reason why I don't have cable TV.
Exploring the aisles of Queen Video is either a great pleasure or an experience in frustration and claustrophobia, depending on the time of day, my mood, and whether I'm trying to find something in particular. The most popular titles are arranged around the walls of the long narrow space in a rough approximation of the alphabet, but with no other organization. Hollywood films, foreign cinema, documentaries, and pr0n all exist happily mixed, and most of it will be rented out at any one time. There are also vast quantities of titles stacked with just their spines facing out, grouped roughly according to genre, but the alphabet is still a fuzzy concept and it's hard to know when to give up the search. I'm still not convinced that they don't have a copy of Buffalo Boy - an excellent film by a man who's a friend of my father and stepmother - but I haven't wanted to spoil the game by asking for it.
My only true frustration with Queen is that some of their titles are perpetually rented out. The documentary Helvetica really is excellent, but I had to find that out the hard way. After seeing its empty box on the shelf, I looked for it every time I went in for at least six weeks before I finally just broke down and bought a copy for myself. It took a month before the first season of Get Smart was available, and I made a dreadful mistake by not renting season two when I had the chance. (I missed it by that much.) I'm okay with the idea that a specific title that I want may not be available - something that Blockbuster offered at the expense of Queen's variety, culture, and intelligence - but sometimes I wonder if they've just lost the velcro-backed tag that indicates when something's back in stock.
Queen Video's Bloor location is open from 11am to 11pm every day of the week.