Lamenting the Death of the Small Town Video Rental Store

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As a person whose career is predicated on internet-based distribution of TV shows and movies it may shock you to learn there is a part of me that mourns for those who have been put out of business along the way.

I should make it clear though: I don’t find myself shedding any tears for the conglomerate chains like Hollywood Video or Blockbuster Video; these two chains ran the mom and pop video stores out of town, and those where the stores I truly loved.

I grew up the 1980s, when the VHS format was at the height of market dominance. Back then the only way a poor kid living in a small town could play video games or watch the latest movies was by begging his parents to rent them for a weekend at a time, and while supermarkets often had a small selection of the latest releases and a few video game titles for rent, if you wanted a real selection you had to go to the specialty stores, where the attendant stood watch over a library of cassettes stored in generic black plastic cases.

The classic video store counter-top. The clerk always stood in front of rows of tapes.
The classic video store counter-top.

As a child the video store always astonished me. Those rows of empty artboxes seemed to go on for hours, and I would often read the backs of every single box whose front caught my attention. I had a particular penchant for the horror section; my parents often wouldn’t allow me to rent horror movies but I’d stare at them in wonder just the same. Truthfully, the horror section always sent a shiver up my spine; it was unnerving to walk among the creepy boxart and any nearby posters hanging on the wall featuring Freddy, Chucky and Jason.

STARLIGHT_HorrorSelection Yet the experience has stuck with me all these years. In fact I still remember the cardbox popup display for Ghostbusters that stood proudly in the store my parents frequented in my hometown of Newberg, Oregon. As I recall it featured a mockup of the Shandor building with the Ghostbusters at the base, and a motorized Slimer spinning around at the top. You don’t see things like that anymore.

When I was older my brothers and I would go to the video store without my parents, and the walk or bike ride to the store was an adventure. We’d often take a direct path there, but along the way get into mischief in one form or another.

The realization my own kids will never be able to share that experience makes me feel rather sad. I now sometimes wonder, in a world where you can access any movie without ever leaving your bedroom, if this has reduced the opportunities for kids to go on real adventures?

In any matter, I like to think I can attribute my love for cheesy B-movies to the selection tastes of the owners of the local video stores I frequented as a child. I suppose there is some irony in how things have ended up; my love for the movies I rented installed in me a strong desire to get into the movie business. It took me a few decades, but the circle is complete.

 

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