By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Income: around $70,000 (1998)
Health Insurance: covered by Creeden's employer
It was 8:30 p.m. last January, the night of the big snow. Joseph Martin was home watching a video when he got the call. Three teens with ski masks and guns had burst into his Reel Life video rental store in Williamsburg. Customers screamed and fell to the floor. The criminals grabbed money from the register but then they dropped it and had to pick it up but it was hard because they were wearing big gloves. They left $5 behind. It was sort of like Dog Day Afternoon when Al Pacino gets confused robbing the bank. "As soon as the robbers left, the people on the floor stood up and wanted to rent videos."
Martin, 27, who owns the one and a halfyearold store with John Woods they also play together in a band, Hell No said they were only out about $400. The robbers did not take any videos, a loss that would have torn apart the Williamsburg film community. "We have the best film noir collection, bar none. My partner John said that's the true test of a great video store. We've got a lot of independent, cult, European horror." Reel Life opened with 3000 videos from Martin's and Woods's personal collections. Today it is bursting with 8000 in an 800-square-foot space. When other video stores go out of business, Martin and Woods buy up their stock.
Movie-happy Martin was already off the deep end when he was 12, spending $100 to $120 a week renting videos from American TV Repair in Bayside, Queens, near his parents' two-story house even though he was only earning $40 a weekend doing cleanup at his father's neighborhood bar in Jackson Heights. "I was living beyond my means. But if I bugged my parents hard enough, I could always get money for the movies. They were Irish immigrants. They came here in their twenties. They met at a dance."
After Martin graduated Francis Lewis High School in Flushing in 1988, he asked himself, "Is college really the best way to play in bands and make movies?" which is what he wanted to do. "My father's bar wasn't even paying for itself then, though he would never sell it because he loved it." His father's friend got him a job as a van messenger, delivering legal documents in Midtown. "I started at $6 an hour. After two years it went up to maybe $6.25. I got fired. Yeah, I was staying up too late watching videos and playing with the band and stuff. Then I did work for multiple sclerosis. Every time an event comes up, they hire people to put pamphlets in stores."
In 1991, he met Bridget Creeden at ABC No Rio. "I started getting serious with Bridget. I said I was really going to start applying myself, taught myself computer design work. After four years, I was making $20 an hour at a graphics company. Then I did print production management. I was miserable."
But Martin had started noticing Williamsburgers on the L train carrying Kim's Video bags. "They were having to go on the subway to Manhattan to rent the kinds of movies they wanted." One night at Patsy's Pizza, Martin and Woods decided to open a video store on Bedford with $13,000 each. "We had to do everything ourselves plumbing, electricity. I'd saved about $20,000 but it turned out I needed $10,000 to pay for the wedding and stuff."
He married Bridget Creeden in December 1997. Creeden, 26, went to Bronx Science and then "Hunter for a year but I stopped and meant to go back but didn't." She has been a teller at the UN Federal Credit Union for two years, earning $30,000. Since she met Martin, she has seen 2000 movies. "I opened her up to things," he said.
Martin wants to open another place in east Williamsburg and "spend less time in the store so I can make movies." But he seems pretty happy sitting behind the counter, talking with the customers, not unlike his father and the tavern.