Lights! Camera! Movie posters! Mike Orlando’s Gift Shop has been bringing Old Hollywood to life since 1984.
You know you have a must-visit store when the members of Metallica request a private two-day shopping spree.
That’s what happened to Mike Orlando, owner and manager of Hollywood Canteen, in 2018 when the rock superstars came to Toronto for a week-long stint. They had long since heard of the thousands of movie posters and books stuck in the quaint store at 1841 Danforth Avenue, and just had to take a look.
“All of them were moviegoers and wanted posters based on what they love,” says Orlando,
70. Guitarist Kirk Hammett bought a slew of Italian horror movie posters. Frontman James Hetfield, a fan of movies featuring cars, landed a poster for “Two-Lane Blacktop,” starring James Taylor. And drummer Lars Ulrich donated $3,500 for a rare “Alice in Wonderland” Disneyland poster. (Bassist Robert Trujillo somehow left empty-handed.)
Orlando first opened Hollywood Canteen in 1984 at the beaches after selling its collection of Humphrey Bogart memorabilia (“one of the largest in the world,” he adds) and realizing it could transform his passion for posters into a viable business.
“I have strong ties to the poster community,” says Orlando, “and have always been on the lookout for movie posters and books about movies and actors, especially classic movies.”
After two years in the beaches, the store moved to the Broadview and Danforth area for three years until rent tripled, forcing Orlando to establish a new location in Markham Village, before Honest Ed’s and surrounding areas were demolished .
Forced to move again, in 2015 Orlando found a permanent home for Hollywood Canteen on the Danforth, a few blocks east of Coxwell Avenue. Orlando briefly expanded with a store in the Mount Pleasant area, but closed it to focus solely on the Danforth outlet.
Upon entering the store, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the array of books and posters available for movie (and TV and theater) lovers. Around 15,000 books and 3,000 posters are on offer, with the price determined by the rarity of the item.
Don’t expect a handful of books on any given topic. One section is devoted to books on music in movies, and another is jam-packed with books on sex in movies.
A dizzying section is packed with actor biographies, often offering more than one book on a recognizable name. Do you like Peter Sellers of “Pink Panther” fame? Choose from nine different books about him. Are you a Marilyn Monroe fan? There are a few shelves dedicated to the movie icon.
“If you want to learn more about special effects in movies, we have books on that,” says Orlando, “and if you want to learn more about the use of religion in movies, we have books on that too. over it.”
One of the store’s most popular sections is full of horror movie books, with titles like ‘Terrors of the Screen’, ‘Splatter Movies’ and ‘Bloodsuckers: Vampires at the Movies’.
“Horror books are quickly sold out because people under 40, who aren’t (otherwise) known to be collectors, really enjoy collecting books and posters in this genre,” says Orlando.
The impressive selection of original movie posters, reproductions and Hollywood Canteen lobby cards (small 11×17 promotional posters that the studios used
to be released theatrically) is the meaty attraction for collectors. Many pre-1990 posters of films such as ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’, ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, ‘Psycho’ and ‘The Wiz’ are available. “I’ve seen people who want to fill their room with ‘Back to the Future’ posters, so they’ll shell out $1,500 for an original,” Orlando says.
Inside the store, it’s hard not to admire the vintage posters on display, like one of 1936’s ‘The General Died at Dawn’ ($800) and an original ‘The Exorcist’ ($500). After 20 minutes in the store, you soon start to appreciate the poster art and design that many of us have rarely thought of.
Orlando rolls out Hollywood Canteen’s most expensive item: an original poster for ‘L’Avventura,’ the 1960 drama by acclaimed Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni. It sells for $2,500.
Orlando says his CNE display booth had long been a powerful marketing tool and revenue generator. And if it weren’t selling rare posters online through third parties every day, along with a handful of books, Orlando doesn’t know if it would still be in business. “Walk-in customers are great, but we do a lot of business online and have so many buyers from the United States,” he says. “I look forward to cataloging everything we have in the store so fans can go beyond Amazon, AbeBooks and Alibris to purchase our products online. I hope we can have our own online store available in the coming year.
What drives Orlando constantly are those moments when he finds the right item for a customer. “I remember a guy came to get a book for his father who loved movies, but he didn’t really know what to get him,” says Orlando. “So I showed him a book about Robert Wise, who made ‘The Sound of Music’ and ‘West Side Story’, and it was also autographed by Wise. The customer freaked out and told me it was the one of his father’s favorite directors. He called me later to thank me for finding the perfect book.
“You know,” he adds, “that kind of thing happens here a lot.”
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