A measured, personal history of the video store

I’ve seen this video get tossed around a ton lately, and I want to give a bit of a measured take here.

To get the obvious out the way, Millennials ARE the video store generation. Way more than our parents. In fact, they probably only went to the video store to get shit to entertain us.

But really what I want to contrast is his video rental experience vs another in a hugely rural part of the world.

I’ve spoken at length about being isolated and the importance of cable TV, but I never talked about the video store. And I am not talking about one of those Cadillac video stores. Enough ink has been spilled on that, and it took me moving around the country to experience that.

So, we will just cover what renting videos was like for me back in the day…when it stopped, what you missed….because I feel like between the nostalgia bait and the hatin (see video above) the experience gets muddled a bit.

Lets start with the basics. In my obscure part of the world, I had two video store choices from a little kid till around early teenage years. The first was a small ass local joint that did not survive the rise of blockbuster.

That is the most similar to the above video’s description. It wasn’t attached to a tanning place, but it was in a rundown stripmall where the rent must have been nothing. If they had new stuff, they had like 3-4 copies and it was gone quick. It was best for finding things that were new like a year and a half ago that you missed. I remember I rented Ghostbusters 2 from there a ton in the early 90s.

It had a Spy Hunter cabinet, and a decent little NES and SNES section. And for fullest disclosure, yes, the actual tape or cartridge you rented would be behind the cover box encased in plastic.

We didn’t go here much cause…selection was limited. Didn’t have big square footage, and so they didn’t have a ton of stuff…also if I remember they had weird rules… like back then, the goal was rentals that would last a week. They had some like off cycle choice of days and thats why we skipped it.

The next town over had the big video store. The fantastically named Slick Sam’s Video. Also in the back of a strip mall but they had a HUGE amount of real estate. Even had the stereotypical curtain section where they shoved porn.

Now for this piece I tried to find a picture of this place. ANYTHING. Unless I want to go spend hours on microfiche, it appears to not have a home on the internet.

The place did look like what you think a typical 80s video store that made it into the 90s looked like. White walls and racks and racks of VHS. They had piles of candy choices, popcorn, a fucking claw machine that would play The Entertainer on a loop to the point where it would drive you fucking insane.

And this HUGE kind of separated by a wall section of video games. I think this was the main reason we kept coming back to Slick Sams. They had a fantastic video game selection.

The place was a bit gross. Like you didnt really want to touch the walls or anything. You wanted to get what you were going to get, and get the fuck out of there.

Blockbuster came to my town late. I would describe it as the end just starting to happen. I remember being pumped about Blockbuster back in the day. Cause it was actually clean. They (more often) had shit. Easy to get in and out. You could keep rentals a week. On and on.

That luster sort of faded as I got closer to graduating high school. When I really got into movies, I couldn’t watch anything of value in there. They didn’t really have a big selection of classics. I remember when I got into horror, I ended up going back to Slick Sams over and over. Cause I could get a bunch of tapes for dirt cheap.

The first time I saw Night of the Living Dead was on the most shitty VHS of the movie you have ever seen in your life. Must have been off of a 16mm print that someone ran their car over. But Slick Sam’s had it and Blockbuster didn’t.

Eventually, the video stores couldn’t compete. The one in my actual town shuttered almost in silence. Slick Sam’s had a big going out of business sales. Friends of mine got tons of DVDs for dirt cheap prices. I remember I bought a bunch of horror VHS.

Blockbuster sort of faded out…I was obsessed with owning movies and going out to the movies. So I remember renting very little…I missed the entire rise of Netflix and the mailing DVDs to your house period. Skipped all of that.

Plus I remember they used to sensor shit. If I wanted to watch Requiem for a Dream, I sure as shit wasn’t going to get it from Blockbuster.

My gut take on the loss of the video store is simple, curation. The clerks at Slick Sam’s could actually recommend shit. I’m sure they did at Blockbuster, but it was sort of corporatized.

Do I miss the video store?

Well thats complicated. The big cadillac video stores, those joints are sort of different. Your average video store didn’t have shit shelved by director lets put it that way. Those places are a diamond in the rough.

I don’t actually miss the video store. What I miss is curation and access.

Curation in someone pointing you in a direction. The algorithm giving you a recommendation based on your watch history is shite. For example, Max is sitting on a pile of great shit but you have to go look for it. It’s never going to be up front.

I mean true curation. I feel like that may come back at some point, but right now thats lost.

Access is the other big one. You have to be on like 3-4 services if you want to dig. Sure your local video store didn’t have everything either, but they could get things…it was different.

I also don’t think the video store was the blight described in the top of this piece….

My real take is I lived through technology creating a business and further technology taking it out. And I think there is something interesting and something lost in the mix.

That is all.

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