Video Store Memories Part 1: Ryan Remembers

by Ryan Acree

I still remember going with my dad to the electronics store to get our first VCR on a Saturday morning sometime in the early 1980’s when I was around 7 or so. My dad was set on a top loader before we left, but the salesman talked him into a front loader and assured him that these are the latest models and work well. It was a very huge GE model and was still not even cable ready. The tuner was VHF only, meaning it would only go up to channel 13. It was purchased mostly to record football games or other sporting events while we were away.

The GE 1VCR5010X that my family used for years (not the actual one).

The GE 1VCR5010X that my family used for years (not the actual one).

When I was 9 or 10, we began pretty fairly regular trips to the locally owned video store. Friday was usually dinner out, and then to the video store to rent a movie or a video game.

There were also frequent trips to the movie theatre for new releases. I still remember going to the movie with my whole family to see Back to the Future Part II. It was a big movie release. I remember as we went on opening night and had to wait outside - the first time I ever had to do so for a movie.

Then there was the warm glow of the TV and cable as I watched movies from HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, as well as watched the TV versions of older movies from cable networks such as USA, TBS, WGN, and eventually TNT and TCM. Even Comedy Central would show movies and zany comedies such as The Jerk or Kentucky Fried Movie.

When I finally made it to High School, I think I was more interested in the New Releases rather than what video game I could rent for the weekend. I would go with our friends to the video store rather than my family on Friday night to pick out a flick to watch as a group.  There was always one friend in the group who always had their parents’ video card and we’d cross our fingers hoping there were no late charges on the account as we went to check out. Of course none of us were old enough to have our own video membership. I mean, you had to have a credit card on file back in those days.

Eventually, in the early days of community college, a couple of my friends became video store clerks in a locally owned store. I would get off of my shift at the radio station around 8pm, head over to the store and hangout around the counter until they closed at 10pm. Then we would peruse the aisles for movies we wanted to watch. And yes, we would put behind the counter the new releases we wanted to watch, even though we were not supposed to.

From those nights in college, I got a real film education. If it came out, we saw it. We combined this unfettered access with our free time and immersed ourselves in consuming movies. I remember watching the Academy Awards during this time, when it was still hosted by either Billy Crystal or Whoopi Goldberg, and remember seeing nearly every film in nearly every category. We even went to the theatre to see first run movies before they hit the video store because we were so excited to see them.

I was never an employee at the video store, but I knew how the computers worked, and I was known to check movies in as they got busy. I remember that the store had to close a couple of days because of snow, but when it was clear enough to drive, there were so many movies in the return bin, all the VHS tapes overflowed and broke the cabinet doors that the bin was contained in.

Once I moved away to college a few hours away, my friends got better paying jobs as waiters at nice restaurants. I then followed my music passion and joined a band. Between school, band practice and gigs, there was just not enough time for movies. Although, I finally did have to break down and get my own video store account for when where was nothing on TV. The bass player and I were the only single guys in the band, and sometimes if there was not another good band playing out that night, we would venture over to the video store and grab one good movie and one movie we would take a chance on. First run movies at the theatre were a luxury, and this was a lot cheaper than going to a bar or a movie theatre.

Eventually, with Christmas money in hand, a DVD player was procured. My roommate and I were on the cutting edge. You see, we were an early adopter of this new service where DVDs were delivered to our mailbox. They called it “NetFlix”… and well you know where it goes from here.

Ryan Acree