Honey, I shrunk the video store
February 7, 2018 3:18 AM   Subscribe

My regular place was a bit more up market that this but I've strong memories of some places being this grungy in the late 80s / early 90s in the UK. Especially the one near where I lived whilst at uni (that sold 'adult entertainment' from behind the counter... or so I've been told)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:36 AM on February 7, 2018

Our local video store had a curtained doorway purportedly leading to the naughty stuff.
posted by pracowity at 4:11 AM on February 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Mine was not that different from this, other than being much smaller with linoleum flooring and instead of shelves with the boxed used something like vinyl browsing racks with the VHS covers on punched pockets. The wood panelling, the small counter, the posters and overall grimy looks (it wasn't old - it was on a small mall that was maybe 6 or 7 years old at best, but it was a time people could smoke indoors) are spot on.
I think after the video rental place went out of business it was never occupied again. Next time I'll have a look around there if I can take a photo between the newspapers covering the windows.
posted by lmfsilva at 4:16 AM on February 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Were all UK video shops this seedy looking? Even the indie shops that I remember going to in the '80s at least had clean floors.
posted by octothorpe at 4:16 AM on February 7, 2018

Were all UK video shops this seedy looking?
In my recollection, "unwholesome" would sum it up better. I remember my local as being staffed by people whose love of sitting on a sofa watching videos seemed to loom way higher than trivialities such as "going outside, ever", "pretending to be polite to customers" ....or "soap".
posted by rongorongo at 4:28 AM on February 7, 2018

Were all UK video shops this seedy looking?

I do remember one or two utter dives... back before everything got corperatised there would always be one or two places in town - pubs or shops - that would be so down at heel you'd wonder how they stayed in business.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:33 AM on February 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Are the late fees as small as the store?
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:04 AM on February 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Cannibal Holocaust and Lifeforce aren't forgotten!
posted by doctornemo at 5:22 AM on February 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

My local video shop, Santa Family Club, was open 24 hours a day and carried an inventory of maybe 70% porn, but was still not quite this seedy-looking. Also, at night (maybe after 8pm) it was staffed entirely by robots.
posted by Umami Dearest at 5:35 AM on February 7, 2018

We were just talking about video rental places at an all-staff lunch yesterday! I used to look at the staff picks and decide whether I'd want to date someone based on their selections. I also grew up in Providence, Rhode Island which had a lot of really impressive independent and art-heavy video stores (lots of Brown and RISD students and recent graduates) but when I was little we mostly went to a store called Vide-O on Elmgrove near where Bagels East used to be and rented Clue or What's Up, Doc? or The Court Jester over and over and I still watch these movies when I'm sad or drunk.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 5:41 AM on February 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

Honey, I shrunk the video store

Presumably, to the tune of "Video Killed the Radio Star."
posted by darksasami at 5:41 AM on February 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

It’s beautiful things like this that make me want to get into making miniatures. Thank you for this post.
posted by Melismata at 5:45 AM on February 7, 2018

Just to note, video stores aren't entirely dead. There has been a movement among some long standing, locally popular stores to switch to maintain their place by becoming non-profits. That's the case with my local videostore which I continue to happily support instead of joining Netflix.

That said, yeah, a lot of videostores I frequented over the years had that same run down condition to them, but when that was matched by clerks and owners who really cared about and stocked hard to find movies, I didn't care much at all.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:55 AM on February 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

The first video store I ever rented from (1980/1981) had a membership fee. Was that common?
posted by davebush at 6:09 AM on February 7, 2018

Aw, memories! I worked at two video stores in the late 1980s/early 1990s. The first, I got the job because it was run by a religious family who needed a heathen like me to run the place on Sundays. The second was a store evenly divided between general audience stuff and the back rooms. The back room videos were divided into two rooms, one called "all male," which made me laugh because it was like those videos just happened to be shot on the days when the women forgot to show up or something.
posted by xingcat at 6:17 AM on February 7, 2018

I miss this place! I remember going to rent movies with a friend all the time when we were about ten. His mum would write us a letter saying we were allowed to watch films rated up to 15 and we'd spend the afternoon watching Nightmare on Elm Street and Porkies :D those were the days etc
posted by KateViolet at 6:24 AM on February 7, 2018

The first video store I ever rented from (1980/1981) had a membership fee. Was that common?

In here, since it was mostly cash transactions and no way of charging a credit card for overdue tapes, it was normal to have a one-time fee (usually one that covered replacing any tape) and then the 1-day/3-day rental fee.
posted by lmfsilva at 6:35 AM on February 7, 2018

Inspired me to check if the video store from my college days is hanging on, and it looks like it is! The inimitable Plan Nine Film Emporium of Bloomington, Indiana. Here's a Google Maps streetview (2015).

I visited it for years. Best organization system I've ever seen--for example, in the horror section, there was a whole subsection labeled "evil children." Now that's browsing excitement!
posted by wires at 6:36 AM on February 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

That hit me straight in the nostalgia. My town videostore -- still exists! -- was not as grungy, but the atmosphere was the same. Staff was mainly vidiots themselves and had a good eye for cult and other esoteric stuff. Rented my first anime and Hong Kong thrillers from there.

Our local video store had a curtained doorway purportedly leading to the naughty stuff.

Being the Netherlands, the porn was out in the open, though close enough to the counter for the staff to keep their eye on it.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:43 AM on February 7, 2018

What's the German word for being filled with nostalgia for something objectively terrible?
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:43 AM on February 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:04 AM on February 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

This reminds me a lot of the stores that'd be in strip malls here in Canada. They'd always have a crappy selection (tho they'd have 3 public domain copies of Its A Wonderful Life) and less cool posters. Maybe a poster for Multiplicity and inevitably the staff would be watching So I Married An Axe Murderer.

As an aside, while streaming and libraries have largely taken the place of video stores, they still do exist (there's just not a lot of them). And believe it or not there's still loads of films not officially available via streaming so they can be handy for the film consumer. At this point, many of the existing stores I know have collections in the 30 to 60000 range (or larger). And there are still loads of interesting things being released physically (Jess Franco and Godard are equally under-served by the Netflixws of the world). Here in Canada stores are usually either in major centres or out of the way rural areas with poor Internet. Not usually in that middle zone of the suburbs where Blockbuster and its ilk depended. Generally, unless they own the building the stores have been closing up shop once their leases expires as a lot of that core business of casual new release viewers have shifted their focus elsewhere.
posted by Ashwagandha at 7:20 AM on February 7, 2018

This looks an awful lot like the video store of my youth, though not the one I used most often. This one doubled as a convenience store where I would go with my grandmother to pick up her cigarettes (Winstons, by the carton) and play the daily lottery. They also had a pinball machine (Playboy) and a video game (Spy Hunter) that I would play if we weren't checking out a movie (Transylvania 6-5000).

I definitely have some nostalgia for places like this.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:41 AM on February 7, 2018

It's still kind of weird to me that I lived through the entire span of a major cultural artifact. I remember as a kid the first videostore opening near me, with their huge membership fee, there was a large part of my young adulthood where our group going to the video store and picking up a bunch of movies was the favored entertainment for the weekend (whether the Blockbuster for mainstream movies or the cool specialty one in Alexandria if we wanted to do an HK marathon.) And then a few years later Blockbuster gift cards in my Christmas stocking went unused because we just never went to the place anymore, and a few years later they were all gone except for a few independents mostly hanging on via being underwritten in some way.
posted by tavella at 8:01 AM on February 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

We still have a small local video store in our neighbourhood. I love going to that place, although I don't go as often as I used to anymore.
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:22 AM on February 7, 2018

This place in the auld hometown has outlasted Blockbuster, Jumbo Video, Video Update, Video City, Rogers Video and a thousand independent places. I want to say it has been there forever, but alas, it was not in the 1988-89 stretch when I lived block away from it. Every time I go past it, though, the parking lot is full or nearly so, so I guess it is doing okay

I see from Google Maps that the fantastic Video Difference in my adopted hometown of Halifax hung on until late 2016. Best video rental place I ever saw.

posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:43 AM on February 7, 2018

Matt at Dinosaur Dracula has a series of photo-filled posts of video stores in NJ/NY/PA that somehow still exist (except for this one, RIP). I'd pick out a fave post buuut THEY'RE ALL AWESOME.
posted by roboppy at 8:50 AM on February 7, 2018

This is surprisingly sad to me. I spent half my childhood as a regular at the local video store, which was famous for having an absolutely enormous selection (around 40,000 movies, as I recall). When I was 18 or 19 I applied to work there and they hired me without even interviewing me (the manager called and said “I think you know this store as well as anyone”). I worked there for years. Met my first girlfriend there, formed long friendships there. Watched, hoo boy, quite a lot of movies.

I mean, it was also retail, and retail sure can suck. I was still working there when Netflix started being a thing, and everyone tried to use that as leverage when they had late fees, even though we were comically lenient about them anyway (I mean, like, someone would return something a month late, I’d reduce their late fee from $30 to $2, and they’d still glare at me). It could be long hours on your feet. Customers could be absolutely awful to us sometimes (this was an upscale part of DC, so you bet customers could be condescending shits - I’ll never forget the woman who laughed at me for having Futurama playing on the store TV because “not many adults watch cartoons”).

But in a lot of ways it was the best job I ever had. So, so many good stories and memories from working there. We all had our favorite customers, or just local characters who would come in. We all built relationships over the years. I feel like my staff picks shelf probably showed me growing as a person, or something.

I mean, I could go on, but this already feels like a eulogy. Point is, my store didn’t look exactly like that one, but it resembled it enough that it’s embarrasingly emotional to see it like embalmed in miniature. Gah! I’d be working at a video store today if there still were any near me.

It makes me angry to think about yet another internet-based “disruption” of local community business having robbed me of that, but I also know that most people probably had to put up with lousy Blockbuster locations. I can’t blame them for not being as nostalgic as I am. Some stores were better than others, though, and mine was one of the best.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 8:56 AM on February 7, 2018 [5 favorites]

I was pondering other video stores that I grew up with. This one has been around for more than thirty years, although in 2016 the owner was raffling it off. I cannot find any news stories about the results, but the open sign was alight six months later on street view.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:01 AM on February 7, 2018

The video rental store in my former neighbourhood went through some trying times in the early 00's... The roof sprung a leak during a particularly heavy rainstorm, so pieces of the ceiling would randomly fall on the customers. The landlord was dragging his heels about making any repairs. In theory, the store was not supposed to be open. However, because the gentlemen who ran the store kept such a well-curated and comprehensive inventory, people kept coming to rent videos from them. So you had to knock on the door, the proprietors would let you in and lend you a bicycle helmet in case any more of the ceiling fell on you. (I'm not making this up.) The other store owners in the neighbourhood called it "the speakeasy video store."
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:11 AM on February 7, 2018 [5 favorites]

Oh holy crap he did the box for The Keep! Imagine the tiny Tangerine Dream soundtrack playing on a tiny screen, as tiny Ian McKellan faces off against tiny Gabriel Byrne. And, far off, a tiny hero awakes as a tiny ancient evil is released.
posted by Kafkaesque at 9:51 AM on February 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have such good memories of Gary's Video Library in Mountain View, picking up armloads of horror films with my friends when we were 11 years old, at liberty to rent whatever we wanted... Viedodrome, Rabid, Zombie. Sights and Sounds around the corner from my house in Saratoga when I was in high school. I think we rented Buckaroo Banzai and After Hours 47 times each. Then AAA Video in Soquel when I was in college, with art films separated by country, by director--where the staff would talk to you for 15 minutes about New German Cinema...
posted by Kafkaesque at 10:01 AM on February 7, 2018

the fantastic Video Difference in my adopted hometown of Halifax

I knew the guys at Video Difference very well and their staff had excellent taste. It should be noted that they donated most of their collection to one of the local universities. As did Videomatica in Vancouver (who's collection wasn't nearly as good as Video Difference's).
posted by Ashwagandha at 7:13 AM on February 8, 2018

Portland still has Movie Madness, which apparently boasts 80,000+ movies there. They just had a huge donation campaign to save them after they were in trouble of shutting down due to the founder wanting to retire, but the Kickstarter worked and Hollywood Theater is now in charge of them. I went in there years ago and decided to just grab a completely random VHS from their shelf of independent movies. It was called "Bad Coffee" and it was totally trying to be like Clerks, but it was of a coffeeshop in downtown Portland, definitely filmed in the 90's on a video camera. It was terrible, but the experience is fun. They also have a lot of movie props in there.
posted by gucci mane at 4:24 PM on February 8, 2018

I forgot to mention, there's also Clinton Street Video, which is more like a regular ole video store than Movie Madness, but still fun!
posted by gucci mane at 4:25 PM on February 8, 2018

Looking up Gary's Video Library, I feel for the owners; when it became unprofitable, they closed it to go into... photo developing.
posted by tavella at 6:46 PM on February 8, 2018

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