Killarney: Video clerk is Internet star

Champlain Heights store manager enjoys cult following

Some say his eyes are projectors, and that if he sneezed, you'd be able to hear the entire first act of Hamlet. All we know is, he's Alan from Champlain Video!"

That is just one of the many accolades included in the comments section of a Facebook fan page dedicated to the manager of Champlain Video, tucked away in a corner of the Champlain Heights neighbourhood of Killarney.

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Standing in the small store Wednesday afternoon, Alan Wong explained a student from nearby Killarney secondary started the fan page several years ago.

"It was a really nice thing when it happened," said Wong. "It shows that being a nice guy does work out sometimes. It was a nice surprise."

Wong, who lives in New Westminster, started managing the store 20 years ago. As a teenager, Wong had been working at the iconic Wally's Burgers on Kingsway when its owner at that time opened Champlain Video on Champlain Crescent. The owner asked Wong to help out at the store and he never left. According to Wong's Facebook fan page, the man is nothing short of a legend.

"This group really IS honouring Alan," wrote the fan page's creator Jesse McMillan. "He is one of the nicest people in our community, he remembers everyone, he has let almost everyone drop a late fee or two not to mention $2.95 Tuesdays."

In a message to the Courier via Facebook, McMillan said at one point there were more than 600 members of Wong's fan page.

"In a big city like Vancouver it's hard for people to find comfort in familiar faces and routines," wrote McMillan. "Alan is there and he goes the extra mile to build a personal relationship with community members."

Wong admitted he has forgiven many late fees over the years.

"You get to know the kids and see them grow up," said Wong, who now sees among his customers the second generation of families who patronized the store. He is single and has no children of his own. "If you're lenient sometimes it helps them to become responsible."

Adding to the legend, one section of the site is dedicated to "Alan sightings," detailing glimpses of the man in and around Champlain Heights and New West.

Wong likes discussing films with his loyal customers and is the go-to guy when it comes to recommending movies. Wong also has a reputation for readily remembering names and phone numbers.

"I think he's an alien 'cause he doesn't age and he remembers every one's face, name, and number in Champlain! I just visited my mum yesterday and rented a video, haven't rented there in 3 years. He still remembered me and my number!" wrote a fan on Facebook. Another wrote: "He knows me better than I know me!" in reference to Wong's ability to choose just the right movies.

Champlain Video is one of a tiny handful of video stores surviving in the city. On Wednesday, the store had a rack selling VHS tapes for $1 each. Wong admitted his knowledge of films of all genres and his passion for great customer service has likely helped the store thrive, despite its isolated location. Wong said the Internet is the video store's biggest competition and, even with the shop's success, he's worried for the day his job becomes redundant. But for now Wong hopes $3 Tuesdays (they've gone up a nickel) and friendly service will keep movie buffs coming through the door.

As for his fans, Wong wants them to know their appreciation is a two-way street.

"When I was younger I was rather bookish and didn't appreciate being around people too much," said Wong. "But working at the store has opened up an aspect of myself I really enjoy."

sthomas@vancourier.com

twitter.com/sthomas10

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