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July 25, 2008

Intercontinental Video


In a neighborhood where most of the population has immigrated to the United States, Om Arora, owner of Intercontinental Video, is bringing everyone a little piece of home. By simply renting a movie.

“I started so everyone could have something from home,? Arora, 70, said behind a counter covered with DVD cases. “Each country, there are so many [movies].?

Arora opened his store, located on South Cedar Avenue and 5th Street S., in 1982. Since then, he has gathered thousands of films, each organized by country of origin, rather than by title or genre.

Intercontinental is like a tour of the world through film, with titles from over 20 countries, ranging from Mainland China to the European Nations. Titles like the original “Scarface? to “Pather Panchali, silent films to new releases.

Very few video stores in the metro could rival the selection Arora offers, or his business philosophy. Arora said he organized the store this way so people could come and see the movies from their country. Each shelf is a self-contained tribute to a nation’s contribution to film.

The store is cramped with thousands of covers. Red signs hang from the ceiling directing customers to the different countries Arora is representing. His back room is a wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling vault of film.

Arora has never used a computer to file. Each movie has a small sticker with a number to categorize. Arora said he knows what movies he has and which ones he does not, using scribbles and notes to help. He is the only employee of the store and works 70 hours per week. “I open and close the store everyday,? he said.

Arora was born in 1938 and is a native of India. He studied botany and received his Ph.D. in plant genetics. After teaching in Poland and Philadelphia, Arora moves to Minneapolis and worked as a fellow for the University of Minnesota. He left, he said, because of the politics of education.

He stated his business as a hobby out of his apartment with only 50 titles. He had no business knowledge at the beginning. By 2002, he had built a collection of 52,000 movies. They were all lost in a fire. “I had to buy them all back,? he said.

Several years after the fire, Arora is still trying to recover his collection, buying new films often. “As soon as it comes, I get it,? he said smiling. He currently has about 20,000 films.

His favorite movie is a German film named “Gloomy Sunday.? On a recent afternoon, he said he knew it was out without looking at his filing notebook.

Arora says he is growing, but businesses around him are struggling. Within the last year, several businesses in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood, like the North Country Co-op, have closed their doors. Even Arora’s business is slower. He said fewer students from the university are coming to rent from him.

But still, Arora remains optimistic. “With God’s grace, I am surviving, I pay my bills, and I am growing,? he said. “You survive.?