While I do love me some nostalgia, especially with how movies can transport us back to certain eras, I try not to get so blinded by it that I think everything in the past was far better than it is now. Some was better back then, some is better now. But if there was one experience that I wish we could bring back in our era of 500 streaming services with hard-to-navigate menus, it’s the video rental store.
Faithful readers will recall that I worked at a few different video stores in the 1990s, and that those jobs definitely contributed greatly to this site. It was perhaps the greatest low-wage job a geek could ever want. You got to be surrounded by cinema all day — posters, trailers, movie boxes, discussions — and the perks of taking home as many movies as one wanted couldn’t be beat.
As many others have noted in recent years, there was something deeply comforting and exciting about a good video rental store visit when you were a kid. It marked the start of the weekend or a special event, and the agency of choice was intoxicating. When I got older and went through some of the lonelier times in my life, movie stores (along with book stores and theaters) was where I fled to find virtual friends and visit strange worlds.
Looking back and pondering what worked with these stores — what we’ve perhaps lost since all of their closings — it may come down to the art of perusing through a physical space. Of hunting down a hidden gem of a movie that one had never seen before. Of being tempted by the box art and convinced by the back-of-the-box description. There were also the latest-and-greatest, the comfort flicks, and so many others.
Plus, it was a reason to get out of your house and go somewhere with the express purpose of obtaining entertainment. That loop of going to the rental store, watching the movies at home, and returning for more movies never quite got old.
And of course, working at a rental store gave me an additional perspective. I always liken it to being swaddled in movies. We played these trailer tapes on the TVs that would promote all sorts of movies you’d never even heard of, and while some of those loops got old, I never quite got sick of them. The actual “work” — restocking the shelves, rewinding the tapes, cleaning the popcorn machine, checking out videos — wasn’t that taxing, and the rest of the time was spent talking films, perusing the shelves, or doing goofy things like rollerblading down the aisles.
OK, I did that once. Once. But it was epic.
I’m certainly not alone in missing video stores. Some people have channeled this loss into incredible efforts to recreate that experience and share it with current and future generations. Others have gotten together to reminisce about their favorite aspects of video stores.
It’s hard to see a future where some sort of video rental store would make a return, and that’s kind of sad to me. It’s something I wish my kids could’ve grown up with and experienced for themselves, but those times are past.
Great write-up of the video store experience. My first job out of high school was Blockbuster Video, and it’s still one of the best jobs I have ever had. Most of the time, it never felt like work, and being surrounded by the film energy was so unique. I became cinephile during those years. And yes, times change, and the streaming era is more convenient, but something about that trip to the video store was very special.
I miss having everything in front of you in alphabetic order. Telling me the most popular or what the algorithm thinks I will like bugs me. Just show me everything from A-Z.
That way, we might find something we’d normally have passed over.
Damn, does this hit! I especially miss independent movie stores. Like VideoPort, in Portland Maine, which had an actual section called Incredibly Strange Films + was decorated with random art stuff customers left. + MG’s in Farmington Maine, which had — I kid you not — half of a wall dedicated to Bruce Campbell movies.