Video Store Memories Part 3: Remembering the Black Bag

by Ken Lewis

I have tried countless times to explain to my children how important the video store was growing up in my era.  They love movies as much as I do, but to them the video store is as relevant as a sock hop is to me. 

I still remember before the video stores appeared every friggin’ where.  What it felt like to get invited to the rich family home that had a laser disc player.  The family corralling around that tv like it was a warming fire.  My family wasn’t rich so joining the Video revolution took a little longer than my immediate friend’s families.  My parents chose BETA over VHS and for a good year it was clear they’d made the right choice as BETA dominated the video stores.  If you wanted a movie on VHS, well good luck.

The first three rentals my family made at the local video store (Mr. Video) were:  TOOTSIE, ICEMAN, and JAWS.  It was the first time I’d seen movies in my home and I watched all three of those over 5 times each that week. 

I was around 16 when the parents let me choose movies for the family to watch.  Running to the local store all alone to see if any of the new releases we wanted to see were in. 

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One of my favorite memories of video stores came on my 18th birthday.  I was finally old enough to watch “R” rated movies.  Yes, I was raised in “one of those” houses.  Yet, here it was, my big day.  So I promptly forgot the years of “PG” films and grabbed SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and JACK THE RIPPER (1976).   I fully admit I only chose JACK THE RIPPER because the back of the cover showed a girl topless. 

They gave dark black plastic bags for the porno movies they had in stock at Mr. Video.  It seems, they also had black plastic bags for the types of horror films I picked up.  I head out of the store with my head high in absolute amazement at how the air breathes different as an adult.  I grab my bike, which I didn’t have to lock up in those days. That’s when I first notice the protestors.  They’re picketing the video store for renting pornographic material.  How dare they!

I’m shaking my head disapprovingly at their disapproving chatter when I notice a familiar head in the crowd of rioters.  One of the protestors is my right wing Christian uncle.  He notices me and walks over, we hug and he looks down at my black plastic and asks me what I have in there.  I proudly state my rental of SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE and was interrupted with a “See you soon, Kenny!”  My uncle, rightfully so, didn’t want to be associated with me anymore. 

I loved the video store and miss it greatly.  I can’t explain to this generation just what an enormous event it was when RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II came out.  How most had to wait a month to even see the movie, it was that overhyped.  Or how a movie like ROBOCOP died at the box office and was rightfully rejuvenated via video stores.  I could tell you how I waited over a year and a half reading up on this movie taking the world by storm but banned here in the states by some kid named Quentin Tarantino. (RESERVOIR DOGS)  In the end though, video stores were your home away from home.  There was a comfort in their tightly lined aisles.  You’d nod when someone picked up a good one you’d already seen.   You were amped when you found a video you had been seeking.  Shit, sometimes you’d chase the employee around the shop as They checked in the back or ran to the nightly returns just to see if what you wanted was in.  Basically the degradation of society can be all honed in on the long fade of the video rental store.  It made us all family and we are lost without it.

Ken Lewis