Before we dive into this, allow me to preface this article by saying: I’m incredibly biased. I worked in video stores for over five years, and yes, it was exactly as cool a part-time job as you would expect.
There are about a hundred different things I miss about that job, and this will only cover the basics. And sure, this is a piece entirely designed to pull at those nostalgic heartstrings, but honestly, who doesn’t long for a simpler time in life? So, let’s dig into it.
In the age of the video store, movie nights were an event. You had to pile into the car, remember your returns, make sure the discs were actually IN the boxes and not still sitting in the DVD player, and drive to the shop, all before your evening could even begin.
After you’d dropped off those weeklies, you’d mill about the new releases, hoping there was still a copy left of whatever the big release of the week was and maybe check out the specials, deciding on the ratio of new releases to weeklies you’d be hiring that evening.
Also mandatory were the fiery debates with your siblings over who got to hire what, as you tried desperately to convince your parents to let you hire that film that was a bit too old for you.
Eventually, this weekly ritual would come to its natural end, as you finally landed on the two new releases and three weekly rentals that would satisfy everyone. You’d then head next door, or close by, to pick up take out for the night, before returning home to settle in for the evening.
The whole process could take up to an hour, or even more, but there was so much more going on than just the selection of movies to watch.
One of my favourite parts about working at the video store was getting to recommend films to customers, and having them recommend films to me in return. Of course, any algorithm can suggest films based on what you’ve streamed recently, but it’s unlikely it will deliver you anything outside the box, which means that you’ll likely end up watching whatever original they’re pushing, or something from the relatively small collection of films they have on their platform.
The number of films I ended up hiring — or even seeking out at different stores — based on casual chats I had with customers as we roamed the aisles discussing their taste, the new releases, and whatever else came up organically throughout the interactions ended up broadening my taste exponentially.
Talking to people about their favourite films and why they loved them so much not only brought me joy, but helped give me a better appreciation of films, even if they weren’t to my taste.
Even just seeing what other people were hiring led me down some interesting paths. ‘They look cool,’ I’d think to myself as I scanned their rentals. ‘Maybe I’ll watch that when they bring it back.’
I’d find all sorts of new titles as I browsed the aisles during quiet hours, reading the back of anything that looked remotely interesting, or overhearing customers discuss movies while I put the returns away.
All of this got me out of my comfort zone of watching Scream, Titanic and anything starring Kirsten Dunst, and into some weird and wonderful films that no algorithm could have predicted I would be interested in.
None of this compares to the thing I miss the most about being at the video store, though, which was the sense of connection I felt to my local community while working there.
To get to know all these people who live in the same area as you, to chat to them about movies, to watch kids grow into teenagers and teens to adults, to see people you went to primary school with, to watch couples form and break up, and to run into these people around the neighbourhood and say hi, all of that is something that I cherish to this day as I walk around, my head buried in my phone, connected to millions of people online, ignoring everyone in sight.
I met one of my best friends at the video store. He used to come in and chat to me for ages about horror movies, although the real horror was the amount he eternally owed in late fees (I’ll admit, not one of the parts I miss about the video store).
Now, it’s been 16 years, and I’m basically a part of his family. I’ll attend his younger brother’s wedding next year. He’s marrying the best friend of a girl who I used to work with at the video store. He used to hang out with the other kids in the video store’s computer cafe, playing Counter Strike and yelling at one another.
Now, they’re all adults who grew up together, who possibly never would have met had it not been for the video store.