Continuing a look back at our home video history. Pax talks a little bit about a few of the video rental stores he frequented while growing up. Check out Shawn’s recollections here.
I think I’ve talked about how important the video rental store was to my development as a cult film fan. Hell, it was important to my development as just a film fan.
Back in the beginning of the video rental boom, there were probably four or five video rental stores in and around Hoover, AL, where I grew up. All of them were home grown stores with clever names like Video Box Office and Video Xpress. At first you actually had to pay an initial fee to even be able to rent movies at the store. And forget buying any of the movies. The prices for VHS to buy for the public in those days were anywhere from $80 to $200. It was called “rental pricing”. Awesomely enough, my dad belonged to at least three of these video rental stores and we frequented most of them in the early days before finally settling on one.
However, the very first home video rental store that showed up in our town wasn’t dedicated to just video rentals. It was actually opened up in the back of a pool supply store called Sam’s Pool Supplies. Here is that location today.
Unfortunately, as you can see, not even Sam’s exists anymore. It’s a sadly empty storefront now. Back then, though, it was a nice store. To get to the videos once you walked through the door you actually had to walk past bins of chlorine and chemical pump equipment to the back of the store where there were several shelves setup with maybe 50-100 VHS tapes for rent. There were even some Betamax titles available. You rented the videos for an evening and returned them the next day. Simple. Efficient. We rented from this location several times in the early days but we were soon lured away to some of the newer video rental stores that were dedicated only to renting videos.
But it’s sad to look back at this empty storefront now. No indication that at one time this was the first and only place you could rent movies to watch in the comfort of your own home…and also get that poolside basketball net your kids have been driving you crazy to buy for years.
Just to go one step further after Sam’s Pool Supplies, the place my family rented videos from the most while growing up was the aforementioned Video Xpress. Video Xpress was kind of a chain, but I’m not sure how far it spread. I have no idea if they were outside Birmingham or even outside Alabama. But I know Birmingham had at least two of them. And the one we rented from the most was located right next to a Showbiz Pizza. You heard that right, nerd heaven consists of a VHS dedicated rental store sitting directly next to a Showbiz Pizza. And the heavens opened, and a chorus of angels did sing. Here is that location today.
At first, on the left, you can see the Showbiz Pizza is now a Chuck E Cheese. That was converted sometime in the 90s. It’s sad because that Showbiz held a lot of memories for me. I not only had a birthday there but I also won a breakdance contest there. Consider me 80s nerd certified.
The Video Xpress location was to the right of Ichiban. We were at that place literally every weekend renting movies. Sometimes renting as many as six videos in a weekend. We showed up so much I was able to get my name on posters and large cardboard standees of movie ads. Yes, in those days the stores actually threw away their promotional material so if you asked they would give it to you. It was AMAZING. I got posters of Return of the Living Dead, April Fool’s Day and Howling II (I was going through my “horror phase”). I also got a huge cardboard standup of Back to the Future however, it wasn’t built to last and completely fell apart on me sometime before I left for college in 1992. All that’s left is one cardboard piece with the BTTF logo on it. Of course, I still have it.
At some point we got our first real chain, Movie Gallery, which began in Dothan, AL. I frequented their 5 for $20 previously viewed DVD sales to populate my own movie collection. Next came our first Blockbuster Video. Like Wal-Mart, Blockbuster (and to some extent, Movie Gallery) essentially put out of business all the old mom and pop stores. Which was sad, but they couldn’t keep up with the low pricing of the giant chains. Eventually Movie Gallery would also succumb and close up shop leaving just Blockbuster for years afterward.
Now, there isn’t even a Blockbuster left. Both of the Blockbusters in Hoover have since closed their doors due to Blockbuster’s financial problems (see above). If you want to rent videos you have to have Netflix or your cable company’s On-Demand system. No longer do you get to “stroll the shelves” looking at cover art wondering what you are going to watch tonight. No more grabbing a movie with an awesome name like Robot Holocaust and wondering if it will be any good. Now, you just grab your phone, query Google or Amazon Reviews, and you pretty much have your answer. But back then, you had to trust in the VHS box art.
And the Box Art Gods did not always smile upon you, my friend.