Expatriate

Forbidden Media heads north looking for a better climate--in Denton of all places

Visitors to Forbidden Media are used to finding something unexpected, out of the ordinary and, sometimes, a little shocking among the store's selection of videos, books and posters on Exposition Avenue near the gates to Fair Park. They would go there in search of items not available at chain stores, and the diverse collection included copies of the original The Ring by Japanese director Hideo Nakata, the DVD of Bumfights, The Anarchist's Cookbook, Bettie Page pinups, UFO theories by Jim Marrs, anime, classic exploitation films and art books by Mark Ryden.

But those who made the trek to Expo Park in the past two weeks found something that shocked even those accustomed to the store's subcultural goody bag. Forbidden Media was gone. The once cozy and cave-like storefront is empty. The burgundy walls and concrete floors are bare. A bright yellow for-lease sign hangs in one of the windows in stark contrast to the black paint and tiles of the exterior. And the mascot donkey, which just last week was posed ass to glass in the other front window giving passers-by a final farewell, is now smashed on the sidewalk out front. On the side is written a line--slightly paraphrased--from Shakespeare's Hamlet: "Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him."

Like Yorick to Denmark's royalty, Forbidden Media was the jester of Expo Park. Among hair salons, art galleries, shops, bars, restaurants and, at one point, a Wiccan community center, Forbidden survived while others folded in even better economic times. It was founded just over a decade ago as Forbidden Books by Jason Cohen, who now runs a companion visual arts space called Forbidden Gallery and Emporium around the corner on Parry Avenue. Nearly three years ago, Cohen sold the store to Ben Moore (and his three out-of-state, hands-off investors), who altered the selection a bit, changing the name to Forbidden Media to reflect an increased focus on videos.

Gone but still Forbidden: Ben Moore stands in the store's empty home in Expo Park.
Peter Calvin
Gone but still Forbidden: Ben Moore stands in the store's empty home in Expo Park.

But Forbidden isn't gone; it just skipped town. Moore, having watched traffic decrease and operation costs increase, has shuffled his stock into a new storefront in a new ZIP code, 45 minutes north in Denton. For now, Forbidden Media shares space with Loose Threads, a vintage clothing store on Oak Street minutes away from the campus of the University of North Texas and around the corner from Fry Street, a small strip home to restaurants, a head shop, a copy place and several other stores. The area is best known as the home to Fry Street Fair, the annual music and arts festival hosted by the Delta Lodge, a rogue fraternity with property at the corner of Fry and Oak streets. Loose Threads and Forbidden Media may share the space, but they're keeping separate stock and staffs. Moore is still handling the day-to-day operations at Forbidden himself.

To those familiar with the store, the move probably is most surprising. Moore had just celebrated the 10th anniversary in August with a two-part celebration and had moved the repertory and cult film series he hosted from the tiny XPO Lounge down the street from the store across town to the Magnolia Theater in the West Village. Though they looked like signs of health, they were more like last-ditch efforts.

"Business had been on the decline ever since the events of September 11, 2001," Moore says. "Like so many other small businesses, the economic backlash stemming from that day was crippling for us. Still, you try to stay positive, and our 10-year anniversary seemed reason for quiet optimism. As for our partnership with the Magnolia, that was definitely intended to attract a much larger and more diverse clientele, but the excess of empty seats at many of the free screenings only seemed to accentuate the writing on the wall."

Relocating, he says, was the next option. "We'd been looking for a larger storefront for quite a while, and naturally our first inclination was to relocate to another part of Dallas," Moore says. "But dwindling foot traffic and the rise of media giants like Virgin Megastore and Tower Records had us looking for other options. That search led us to the Fry Street area of Denton, which in many ways is very similar to Expo Park, except for the 40,000 students located right across the street."

The co-habitation is temporary for the time being. "We don't have any definite plans for marriage, but you never know," Moore says. But he's already making some adjustments to the new environment. "Though some minor tweaking of our stock might be necessary in order to avoid any legal woes--we've been warned that Denton is notoriously illiberal--we don't have any plans on changing our ways, so to speak," he says. But even the more liberal Expo Park neighborhood wasn't as understanding at one point. In 1999, Cohen was charged with a Class A misdemeanor obscenity charge for selling a copy of Slurping to an undercover vice detective.

But besides weeding out some of the borderline items, Moore is also considering adding a music section and eventually offering live bands. He hopes this "sum of all parts approach" of combining videos, books, music and miscellaneous items such as posters and T-shirts will make Forbidden's new home a prosperous one, though Denton is notorious for not being able to keep its independent music stores open. The X, which opened on Welch Street and eventually relocated to Fry Street, stayed open the longest, but several others have opened and closed in the scant years since it closed.

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