We Lost a Lot With the Death of the Video Store

blockbuster video stores

Before we dive in, allow me to preface this article by noting that I’m incredibly biased. I worked in video stores for over five years from the age of 16 into my early 20s, and there are about a hundred different things I miss about that job. Some of them are replicated in my current job — getting screeners for movies and shows is kind of a grown up version of getting free rentals, I guess, but there are plenty of elements that can’t be replaced (and not just all the Diet Coke and gum I charged to my account and never paid off — sorry!).

I’ll be upfront and say that this article is essentially nostalgia bait, but honestly, who doesn’t long for a simpler time in life? Let’s get into it.

The Excitement of Going to the Video Store

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 your returns, you’d mill about the new releases, hoping there was still a copy left of whatever the big release of the week was. You’d check out the specials and decide on the ratio of new releases to weekly rentals you’d be hiring that evening.

And of course, there were many the fiery debates with your siblings over who got to hire what. Your brother got more picks than you last week, it was your turn! You’d stand in the aisle like you were on the debate team, launching your best argument about why your parents should let you hire that film that was a bit too old for you.

Eventually, the weekly ritual would come to its natural end, as you landed on the two new releases and three weekly rentals that would satisfy everyone. You’d head next door to pick up a pizza before returning home to settle in for movie night.


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The Physical Browsing Experience

Streaming platforms have brought the browsing experience into our homes, and while it’s inarguably more convenient, it comes with its own set of issues. On the one hand, we no longer have to plan ahead and reserve our copy of the movie we want to see. On the other, there are so many streaming platforms to browse through, all with more content than ever before.

Going to the video store took time,  yes. But did it take longer than sorting through the selections of every subscription service you have, and then overcoming decision paralysis and just picking something to watch? I’d argue no. Surely I’m not the only one who’s wasted an entire night flicking between apps, unable to decide what I actually want to spend my night watching.

There’s something to be said for the experience that was browsing the shelves of the local video store. I loved the tactile experience of wandering the aisles, picking up copies of physical media, reading their blurbs. More than that, I loved browsing the aisles with a friend. Nothing made me happier than bantering back and forth with jokes and light-snark commentary, loud enough for the other customers to hear how funny and smart we were. Yes, I’m outing myself as an annoying person. I am who I am, unfortunately.

Real-Life Recommendations

These days, we get our movie and television recommendations from algorithms, and often, they do a pretty good job!

Still, one of my favourite aspects of working at the video store was recommending films to customers, and having them recommend films to me in return.

There’s something about a human connection that can encourage you to get outside your comfort zone, to try something new, or to go back and watch their secret favourite film, the one that’s so underrated but actually so good. 

The number of films I ended up hiring or even seeking out at different stores based on conversations I had with customers as we roamed the aisles talking about movies ended up broadening my taste exponentially. 

Broadening Your Cinematic Horizons

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 renting led me down some interesting paths. If a customer seemed interesting, I’d look at their rentals as I scanned them through the register, making a mental note to look interesting titles up later. 

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.

Connection to Local Community

I met one of my best friends at the video store. He would come in and chat to me about horror movies for hours — although the real horror was perhaps the amount he had owing on his account in late fees at all times. 

This is what I miss most about video stores, that sense of connection I felt to my local community while working there.

Working at the video store gave me an opportunity to get to know the people who lived in the same area as me. I’d chat to them about movies, and through that, I’d get to know their interests. Over the years, I saw kids grow into teenagers and teens to adults, I’d catch up with people I went to primary school with. I saw couples form and break up and move on, all from my spot behind the counter, and I’d see the customers who knew each other bump into one another on a busy Friday night. They’d chat and catch up, offer each other recommendations before heading out.

Now that the video store is all but dead (shout out to Adelaide’s Galactic Video, which remains open to this day), I cherish those moments I had at the video store. As they say, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. They may not have paved over my paradise, but it’s a chicken shop now.

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