Westport Road in Kansas City, east of Broadway and west of Main Street, has seen many changes in the businesses owned and operated by or for the LGBT community over the years.
The store occupying the first-floor space below the former Lesbian and Gay Community Center, which was called Larry’s Cards and Gifts, was sold and renamed In The Life, only to close within a short time. Then former “Larry’s”owner Larry Gilbert came back in and reopened the store as Out There, which has since closed.
Next door to Video Mania, Kansas City stylist Andy Chambers (who has created many covers for Camp) and his partner, Alan Dunham, last year opened their boutique, Wonderland, at 206 Westport Rd.
Through all these changes, two mainstays for the LGBT community have stayed open for business — Bistro 303, which opened at 303 Westport nine years ago, and Video Mania, which has been there for more than 31 years.
The store was created by its owner, Larry Vale, who operated it out of his house before moving to a small building in Westport and then moving to the current larger location years ago.
Despite the name of the business, the store’s days of carrying VHS tapes are gone, and the videos are replaced by DVDs and Blu-Ray titles. Video Mania has prospered even as other video stores have closed amid the competition from digital downloads, Netflix, Redbox kiosks and more.
Video Mania offers plenty of options for holiday gift-giving. The front of the store carries mainstream media, including a huge selection of LGBT movies displayed on nearly five walls. You can find LGBT films that played on the large screens and those that only made the circuits of film festivals. The rest of the store carries new releases, as well as other mainstream media.
“We have a lot of art students that come in for videos they can’t find anywhere else,” said the store’s manager, George Pouche, who has worked there for seven years.
The back of the store features the adult section. The staff at the front desk presses a buzzer that allows those older than 18 to peruse the section with adult videos and magazines, adult toys, lube, c-rings, leather goods, and even some fun novelty items.
Why has the store succeeded when others have failed?
Pouche said, “I think it’s our variety and our adult stuff. We get new adult merchandise every week, and it’s fresh and new. We weed out the bad stuff and only get what people want, based on customer feedback.”
Last year, the store started carrying LGBT greeting cards, filling the void left by the closure of Larry’s Cards & Gifts and OutThere, and recently they have started carrying underwear apparel, tank tops, jock straps and tank tops at prices of $10-$25.
“They’ve been doing pretty well,” Pouche said. “We’ve just been kind of listening and getting feedback of what people want. And then, of course, if there’s ever anything that someone wants that we don’t have, we can always order it. So if someone sees something online and they don’t want it mailed to them or whatnot, they can always show it to us, and we can see about getting it. That’s pretty much for everything in our store, our movies, our toys, all of it.”
Videos are available for rental or purchase. Rentals start at $2/day for general DVDS and $3/day for new releases. Most movies are available for seven-day rentals at $5/week. Adult video rentals are $5/day.
Pouche said the weekly rentals work well for people from out of town who could never make it back to return daily rentals. He said they have regular customers from Lawrence, Topeka, Leavenworth, Atchison and even some from Iowa and Nebraska.
“You can rent a movie, and then if you decide to buy it, we take off the rental price toward your purchase,” Pouche said. “We actually encourage people to rent before they buy. That way, they don’t end up with something they don’t want.”
208 Westport Rd. Kansas City, Mo.
Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays,
11a.m.-11p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, and noon-10 p.m. Sundays.