Sunday, 19 February 2012

Keeping Collecting Alive: Mike Orlando and the Hollywood Canteen

(Hollywood Canteen, Mirvish Village)

We're living in an era that has a severe lack of nostalgia or reverence for things of the past. But, for classic film buffs like me who appreciate what has come before, Hollywood Canteen is a haven. Film fans NEED to check out this amazing, one-of-a-kind store that specializes in everything Hollywood. Owned by film aficionado and one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, Mike Orlando, the Hollywood Canteen stores are a film lover's paradise, dedicated solely to movie memorabilia, rare film books, original movie posters, film scripts, and much more. With two locations in Toronto (one at 1714 Danforth Ave and a newer one in the heart of Mirvish Village on Markham Street), film fans and collectors can find literally anything film-related they might be looking for.

(The man behind it all: owner Mike Orlando)

I sat down with Mike on February 19th for a simply delightful hour-long conversation at his Mirvish Village store, the location that specializes in merchandise for vintage film buffs. I wanted to get the lowdown on how the Canteen came to be, and he was thankful for the opportunity to promote the store! The subject of our conversation? The importance of collecting film memorabilia in an online era with an outlook that only appreciates the "current" and the "right now," the often disappointing state of modern movie-making, and certain classic film stars whose memorabilia are eternally popular collector's items. After our discussion, I am more than ever encouraging film fans to go in person and claim a piece of Hollywood history for yourself at the Canteen.

A bit about Mike:
He calls himself a self-taught film buff. And what a knowledge base he has! While he never took film courses in university, he's read countless books on film criticism, and has seen, in his words, "pretty much every movie made up to 1980." He knows so much about film that he even taught film courses for 8 years at Centennial College. Also of note is that he is a high school math teacher. Retired since 2005, he was the Math Consultant at Holy Trinity High School until last year, and, because of his love of teaching, he still does supply teaching on the side at his local high school. His favourite actors? He loves Bogart and used to collect anything and everything on the legendary star. Right now, he's on an Elmore Leonard kick.

(Rare Book Room at the Mirvish Village location)

A bit about the history of the Canteen:
Hollywood Canteen opened a first tiny location in 1984 (Mike was teaching at the same time) in the Beaches. Once the Beaches became, in Mike's words, the "trendy giant it is now," he moved to Danforth and Broadview, and finally, to Danforth and Coxwell, where they are today. Recently, the Mirvish Corporation contacted Mike, and asked him to be a part of Mirvish Village with a second location. Mike couldn't say no to that, hence the second location that has been in existence since November. The Mirvish Village is a perfect location for what the Canteen has to offer, with what Mike describes as "complimentary shops" in the surrounding area. Vintage Video is just a few doors down (specializing in hard-to-find classic film titles), Suspect Video is across the road, and The Beguiling, a comic book shop, across the corner. "It's a good fit," Mike says.

The Mirvish Village location has also served to bring in a lot of new clientele, who never ventured to the Danforth location. And it's a perfect location for him to showcase his wonderful and unique vintage memorabilia.

What to find at each location: 

(A sampling of the treasures at the Mirvish Village location)

At the Mirvish Village location, you will find all the vintage collectibles for the vintage film buffs: original movie posters and lobby cards from the Golden Age of Hollywood, rare film books (historical reference, director studies, film criticism, biographies), and so on. Mike proudly boasts that he has what is "probably the largest film book collection in the world." If you don't see what you're looking for at first glance, ask! He probably has it in storage, or he can definitely track it down for you. Film students, take note! You can find great references for your work at this location!!

At the Danforth-Coxwell location (condensed now because of the Mirvish Village location and renovated with a new clean-lines look), you'll find the general movie posters for newly released films. There's also an extensive stamp collection, a smattering of film books, and reproductions of movie posters. From the Danforth location, you can also rent movies! Mike has 3000 DVD titles of what he considers worthwhile (aka classic) films for rent, and you can rent 3 for $10 for the week. Mike says that while Turner Classic Movies does a great job of broadcasting classic films, they still don't broadcast everything from every studio's Golden Age, and if you rent from the Canteen, you get to handpick what you watch!

Selling movie memorabilia in the online-dominated world of 2012:
While Mike is happy with the way both locations are operating, he says that "the store concept is in jeopardy" due to the abundance of memorabilia being sold online. He states: "The internet is fantastic for the consumer, but it's a disaster for retail. We have a strong internet presence and our books sell very well on the internet, and we're very happy with our internet sales. That said, with the posters, you can't compete with people selling out of their basement... ebay's not a good venue to sell anything of value." He says that the problem lies not in "my product, but the stores in general." People aren't getting up from their computers and actually going out to shop. Thankfully though, he states: "we're doing good though, we're hanging in." With a store as unique as the Canteen that has been around since 1984, he has a devoted following.

 (Just a sampling of the Horror Books section)

What's selling right now?
Mike says that going and doing offsite shows for the CNE and FanExpo gives him a good idea of what collectors are still willing to pay money for. What's a guaranteed sell these days? Horror-movie-based memorabilia, he says. He sells out of everything Horror whenever he does shows, and horror fans are young and old. Who's the #1 Golden Age actress that customers buy memorabilia for? Audrey Hepburn, hands-down, he says. "Many people think that Breakfast at Tiffany's is the greatest movie ever made if you're a Hepburn fan," he says, so her stuff always sells well. Marilyn Monroe isn't far behind at #2. Mike calls Audrey and Marilyn the "hope for the future of collecting, because they keep collecting alive." Barbara Stanwyck is popular for hard-core collectors. In terms of actors of the male persuasion? Humphrey Bogart's memorabilia sells well, as does James Dean. Mike attributes the Dean and Monroe collector bug to the fact that they both lived short lives, so their fame has skyrocketed and remained high in the stratosphere as a result.

The state of modern film and what's currently in the movie theatres:
"There's nothing happening in the theatres," Mike believes. There hasn't been a lot happening in the past 10 years, either. Mike misses the innovative and experimental era of 1965-1975: the years that brought us Chinatown, Clockwork Orange, and Midnight Cowboy. After that, films started to get too commercial again, he says. While he enjoyed this year's Hugo and the acting and the look of The Artist, he believes that we're not seeing movies in the theatres that we'll remember in 10 years. In my opinion, that's why the Canteen is so wonderful, since anyone can buy a collectable piece of movie history that they want to remember!!

(Grace Kelly Treasures, Mirvish Village location)

Mike's message to young Golden Age film fans: "START COLLECTING!"
Nobody collects these days, according to Mike. "Nobody collects records, nobody collects DVDs... another problem with the internet." As a 23-year old classic film fan who collects lots of movie memorabilia and DVDs, I was surprised to discover that I am an anomaly! The age group that Mike gets in the Mirvish Village location is a little "younger and hipper," but the common age is 70 years old for hard core collectors these days. He and I both lamented the loss of Sam the Record Man, a store he used to frequent every Friday night. "There's no desire to learn or to own anything... they just want to know what's next," Mike aptly states. Mike's idols growing up were the stars of the 1930s and 1940s, and he believes that it should have followed that the next generation would collect Robert Redford and Paul Newman, but that didn't happen. "There's so many big stars that nobody collects," Mike says. Mike states now that customers will now come in looking for something very specific, "one shot people" as he describes them, but nobody wants everything associated with one specific star or director anymore. Mike and I are trying to figure out if modern and younger classic film fans don't have a desire to collect, or if they just aren't aware what's out there. My dear twitter followers, take note! Don't be shy of actually owning something movie-related that reflects your personal classic movie taste!

What's next for the Canteen?
Hollywood Canteen might be hooking up with the new theatre The Projection Booth on Gerrard St., and sell some collectibles (books, posters) in the theatre that correlate with the screenings, so keep your eye out for that! If you're ever frequenting the TIFF Bell Lightbox theatre on King St. West, the Canteen has some great movie collectibles next door at the store Legends of the Game. If the TIFF gift shop isn't meeting your needs, I'm sure you'll find something just a few doors down.

 (Movie posters and collectible dolls abound at the Mirvish Village location)

The bottom line:
What the Canteen offers is a unique product that can cost as little as $25. Mike says, "It may not be a valuable gift, but it's a unique gift." If you love a certain star, why not buy a book about their life? The content of the book will be more in-depth than any cursory information you'll find online. Own a piece of history! Become a film collector, even if your collection is small. Gather material on your favourite films! Pick up an original poster of your favourite film, buy a reproduction of a favourite movie poster! Mike is sure to have something of interest at one of his locations for you. And if you don't live close by, you can find him online and order that way! Many of his film books are available online from that link. The store also has an ebay profile that has lots of great merchandise for sale. Check out the Canteen, film fans! You won't be disappointed! Mike is very approachable and an immensely nice person who knows so much about film that you will be in awe of his humble knowledge! Mike personally told me today that if you go into the store and mention this blog post, you'll get 10% anything in the store as a token of his appreciation! 

 I can't say enough good things about what the Canteen stands for, and the amazing and unique merchandise that graces the walls of the stores. All I can say is: get out there and start collecting!!

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