"Hello, my friend."
That is how Scarecrow Video founder George Latsios would greet you whenever you entered the store. If he said that to everybody, the important thing was that you always knew he meant it. George had a way of welcoming you and making you feel like a regular, like somebody worthy of personalized service. He was the maitre d' of the place, greeting customers and making sure their cinematic needs were being met. When doctors first discovered the tumor in his brain more than five years ago, they gave him six months to live. He defied the doctors' predictions and held on until March 6, when he passed away in his hometown of Kozani, Greece.
George and his wife, Rebecca, moved to Seattle from Pennsylvania in 1983 with, among other things, a large collection of videotapes. For a while he rented them out through a local video store, Backtrack Records and Videos. It didn't take long for him to get the itch to open his own shop, however, so in 1988 he moved his collection into a storefront on Latona Way (the store was later moved to 5030 Roosevelt Way) and started Scarecrow Video. Of course, instead of satisfying his passion for movies, it only fueled it.
Scarecrow grew out of George's love of movies, and George loved a lot of 'em, from Italian horror to foreign art films to Hollywood blockbusters to straight-to-video sexploitation, to name but a few genres. Some people would say he loved any movie projected in proper focus, and this overstatement sums up exactly why he was the perfect host for the store. His enthusiasm for film would infect customers and employees alike.
From its inception, Scarecrow was a place for movie lovers. Instead of focusing on new releases they built up a back catalog of classic pictures, growing the store from a bastion of cult films to the virtual cinematheque we have today. I say "they" because he could never have done it alone. Over the years he hired smart and talented people to help him realize his dream. Certainly, the result was enough to impress internationally acclaimed director Bernardo Bertolucci when he came through town with Little Buddha, who recognized the greatness of the store and said as much.
If in his need to be the face of the store he took credit for some of what his employees did, behind the scenes he was incredibly generous. Actually, he may have been generous to a fault. Part of the legend of Scarecrow is how George stopped paying taxes and "repurposed" that money. The inventory was growing at a fast but sustainable rate, but he would often spend outside the budget on rare tapes, or on inventory for other stores he'd like to open, festivals he needed to present, video labels he needed to start, directors he needed to bring to town, or even Christmas gifts for the employees. Basically, he began expanding the scope of the store with the financial recklessness of a dot-com startup, confident in the knowledge that he had a great product (Scarecrow Video) and sure that the world would catch up to him.
In retrospect, he may have started the reckless spending when he realized he was living on borrowed time. His will was too strong, however, to let him go gently into that good night--there were still too many movies to see--which left him and the store in quite a quandary. Debts were mounting, but as he was a proud and stubborn Greek, he kept both his personal and business troubles a secret for as long as he could. He greeted the public and the employees with the same unfettered optimism that they had come to expect. Some of his actions during this time hurt and alienated the employees who helped him build the store, which was only made worse when it nearly collapsed completely. Luckily, two guys from Microsoft (Carl Tostevin and John Dauphiny) were able to buy the business and keep George's dream and legacy alive.
Talking with employees who worked with George both before and during this trying time, I've found that for everybody the good memories far outweigh the bad. George was a force of nature, an incredibly hard worker, a dreamer who had the courage to barrel ahead and do things others might think impossible. More than anything else, Scarecrow Video is his gift to the city of Seattle. It changed the landscape of the city and helped fuel the perception of Seattle as a movie lover's paradise. Heck, the last time Quentin Tarantino was here for the film festival, he walked from downtown to the U-District store just to see it and talk with the employees. George Latsios was more than just the founder of Scarecrow Video, he was its heart. The store will live on. However, the world is a lesser place without him.