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Saturday, March 8, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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George Latsios, who started revered video business, dies at 44

Seattle Times staff reporter

Movies were to George Latsios what oxygen is to everyone else. Maybe even more so.

When he founded Scarecrow Video as a hole-in-the-wall shop in Seattle's Latona neighborhood in 1988, he never hoped to get rich, friends said. He merely wanted to share his all-consuming passion for films. And make enough money to buy more. And more.

Mr. Latsios' tireless pursuit of the eclectic, obscure, classic and downright bad movies of the world grew his shop into one of the largest and best-known independent video stores in the country. And it also led to him losing it.

Mr. Latsios died Wednesday in his hometown of Kozani, Greece, after a long battle with brain cancer. He was 44.

"If you took his movies away, it would have been like depriving him of the essential elements of life," said his ex-wife, Rebecca Soriano of Seattle.

"It was all about the movies, and people watching movies, connecting people with the movies. I'll remember him getting such great enjoyment out of people watching movies."

Mr. Latsios moved to Greece in 1999, shortly after he was forced to sell his store, now on Roosevelt Way Northeast in the University District, because of tax trouble.

"I think he was someone who was really driven by his love of films, and the store is really a reflection of it," said Norm Hill, a longtime friend and store manager.

Mr. Latsios was born Sept. 8, 1958, in Kozani and moved to Pennsylvania with his family when he was 10. His boyhood dream was to own a movie theater.

When he was 19, he paid $1,200 for a clunky videocassette recorder, and he started collecting movies.

He earned a computer-science degree from Penn State. But he and his wife moved to Seattle on a whim in 1983 and Mr. Latsios managed restaurants while building his movie collection to more than 500 titles.

He started renting his collection on consignment to customers of a small video store in the University District. Then he quit his job and rented a tiny space in the Latona neighborhood.

"We only had like 500 movies, and we slept in the store and worked there day and night," Soriano said.

But the store soon filled up with 18,000 titles. Film buffs often came from out of town just to get their hands on Mr. Latsios' hard-to-find flicks.

"I think he just became a junkie," Hill said. "I think the video store became an opportunity for him not only to have a business but to be a customer."

He and his wife moved the store to its current location, an 8,300-square-foot building at 5030 Roosevelt Way N.E., in 1993.

The store stayed just as eclectic as it became famous. Movie stars and directors and film critic Roger Ebert put it on their lists of must-visit sites in Seattle. The store boasted more than 30,000 titles, and Mr. Latsios had watched all of them.

His all-time favorite, his ex-wife said, was "Blade Runner," the theatrical version, not the director's cut.

In 1995, Mr. Latsios was diagnosed with a brain tumor that doctors estimated had been growing for 10 years.

As he became more ill, he started buying more and more movies. Despite annual sales sometimes topping $1 million, Mr. Latsios was broke all the time.

"He was given six months to live, so he wasn't thinking about 20 years from now," Soriano said. "He didn't figure he'd be around to pay the tax man."

But the tax man came calling. In 1997, hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, the Latsioses declared bankruptcy. The store was finally sold in 1999 to John Dauphiny and Carl Tostevin, who promised to keep Mr. Latsios around as long as he wanted.

"I love movies," Mr. Latsios told a Seattle Times reporter at the time. "It's still my candy store and I'm the biggest kid in it."

In addition to his ex-wife, Mr. Latsios is survived by his mother, Katina, in Greece.

A memorial event is planned for 8 p.m. March 30 at Scarecrow Video. Mr. Latsios' friends are also looking to start an endowment fund in his name for a film-studies program at the University of Washington.

Ian Ith: 206-464-2109 or iith@seattletimes.com

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