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Analog VHS rentals
Photograph: Emma Krupp

You can rent director Joe Swanberg’s VHS collection from a Ravenswood pizzeria

Analog Pizza and Video offers a subscription for unlimited VHS tapes.

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Written by
Emma Krupp
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If you've walked by Borelli's Pizzeria in Ravenswood anytime during the past week or so, you might have noticed a new hand-painted sign tucked above the building's side entrance on Hamilton Avenue. Step inside after 8pm on a weekend and you'll find director Joe Swanberg (of Easy and Drinking Buddies fame) offering his roughly 275-volume VHS collection for rental—plus movie screenings, pizzas and a beer or two, if you decide to stick around.

Swanberg, who worked at Hollywood Video as a teen, approached the pizza restaurant around a month and a half ago about the prospect of setting up an after-hours VHS video store in the back room, establishing a throwback spot where people could snag VHS tapes and a pizza in one fell swoop. Feeling disillusioned by shuttered movie theaters and a push toward online releases, he'd recently ditched his streaming subscriptions in favor of a slower approach to film consumption. Suddenly, opening a VHS rental shop—especially one affiliated with a pizza joint—felt like just the right amount of nostalgia for the moment.

"Part of the reason I wanted to do this here is that Borelli's already has the feel of a 1980s family pizza place," Swanberg says. "It just felt right to me. Coming in here has always reminded me of my childhood." After some back and forth, Analog Pizza and Video Store was born. For $60 a year, customers can rent unlimited VHS movies (a maximum of two tapes at a time); there's also a small collection of goods available for sale, ranging from VCRs to books and records. And of course, a section of the Borelli's bar remains open for slices, whole pizzas and drink service. 

As the name suggests, Swanberg intends for Analog's entire operation to be entirely computer-free. There's no website or social media pages, and prospective customers will have to show up to Borelli's back room in-person to sign up with Swanberg or his staff, who are managing subscriber info in a small Rolodex ("I'm not huge on data collection," Swanberg explains). Correspondences and newsletters, including announcements about new titles and programming, will be sent via snail mail. The old-school approach even extends to the store's decor, which channels the ’80s with candy-colored shelving, a neon sign and Borelli's vintage arcade games.

Don't arrive at Analog expect a carbon copy of a ’90s-era Blockbuster—the shop is decisively geared toward film buffs (after all, you'll need to either own or buy a VCR in order to watch a tape). The movie selections skew toward Swanberg's personal tastes, currently comprised of a personal collection he's has been building for about 25 years. A brief scan of the shelves reveals an early-career documentary by the late Lynn Shelton, some foreign art house films and a college-era project from Lars von Trier, plus ’90s favorites like Good Burger and Cool Runnings. He's ordered a few hundred more VHS tapes that should arrive soon, which will bring the total collection up to around 500—and he plans to continue seeking out rare and unique tapes. 

"This is the stuff that I'm kind of like most excited about carrying and moving towards, like, cool old PBS documentaries about artists," Swanberg says. "I just ordered an eight-volume BBC series about modern art. I will probably like slowly be moving away from titles anyone can find anywhere towards more stuff like that."

He compares the shop's curatorial process to what he's observed in restaurants, where sprawling menus have been swapped out in favor of smaller, more streamlined choices. Shelves are arranged in collections by director or genre, though that will change based on the curation choices of whomever is working on a given night. Ideally, customers will learn to visit on certain days in accordance with their tastes: "I want people to be like, 'Oh, so-and-so is working, they always hide the mainstream stuff and put out the real punk stuff,'" Swanberg says. "Or, 'This person is always spotlighting musicals.'"

So far, 27 people have signed up for an annual subscription; Swanberg estimates that he can take on around 150 people in total at his current level of operations. Eventually—maybe as soon as next month—Swanberg aims to add regular screenings of new films on the Borelli's rooftop, similar to the Secret Saturdays program that he ran at the Davis Theater earlier this year. He's also mused about the possibility of offering dual pizza-and-movie delivery sometime in the future, or even offering VCR rentals. For now, the goal is to bring together a community of people looking to experience moviegoing together as the world begins to re-emerge from isolation.

"In a super dreamy scenario, we would show a movie on the roof from 9 to 11pm, and then come downstairs and maybe I could do a movie down [in the main room] for whoever wants to keep hanging," he says. "I'm just mostly excited about spending this summer trying to figure out ways to get people to hang out together." 

Analog Pizza and Video, located in the back room of Borelli's (2124 W Lawrence Ave), is open from 8pm–midnight Thursday through Saturday.  

Joe Swanberg Analog
Photograph: Emma Krupp

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