Throughout the 1980s, until the early 2000s, video rental stores were rather relevant. It’s what a lot of us had to go to for our weekend amusement, be it movies and/or video games. We were given access to a plethora of media within the walls of buildings that housed these treasure trove of entertainment – all we had to do was sign up for membership and pay right five bucks per rental (give or take). Most places that had to complete with the larger chains would even offer 3-day passes. Weekend solved! Batman to watch and Double Dragon 2 to play all weekend for only 10 bucks! It was almost a ritual experience for me. I had a starting and end point in the store and I was not leaving until every title was scanned, contemplated and greeted with a final decision. I know I’m not he only one who did this. My mother actually owned a “mom and pop” rental place and you could witness this pattern from behind the counter, it’s simply what we all did in these stores.
Rental shops may be a thing of the past these days, tall tales for our grand kids of the future who refuse to believe that not everything could be downloaded or streamed, but let’s take look at the history of this staple from our yesteryears.
THE FIRST VIDEO RENTAL STORE
That credit is given to a man by the name of George Atkinson who started the Video Station chain with only 50 titles. Each title was offered in two formats: Beta Max and what would later prove to be the champion of video format, VHS. Atkinson ran an advertisement for his videos for rent and the rest is history. I imagine the idea was almost jaw dropping at that time (his first place opened in California around 1977), since to purchase and own a video tape at that time was going to cost you some coin. The going price for a movie back then was about 60 to 100 dollars! Atkinson invested into something everyone wanted but couldn’t quite afford and by doing so he created a new market. Other people followed this idea and we started seeing major chains as well as locally owned rental shops. The general public could officially relive the theater experience at home.
Thus, video stores were born. Everything eventually grows up though, so let’s call the introduction of DVDs the “adolescent phase.” DVDs are still popular and I can easily see why they surpassed VHS as the media format of choice. Sure, we can opt for a Blu Ray copy, but we can get the same movie for a few bucks cheaper on DVD. Movies on disc – believe it or not – was the first blow that struck video rental stores… on a small level at least.
DVDS: THE ADOLESCENT PHASE
It wasn’t even an issue at first. When DVD players first came out, like all new technology, it was at a high cost as were the discs themselves. Local video places were able to integrate a few DVDs into their massive collection of VHS tapes and the few people in town who had the new DVD players were appeased. So what went sideways? Easy answer: we evolved with the media. People sold their VCRs and upgraded to the newer format. DVD was becoming the Alpha Predator and it was killing off all that was left of the VCR generation. Mom and Pop stores were losing business to the Blockbusters, Hollywood Videos and other larger chains because they had the funding to upgrade.
Meanwhile, local video chains were stuck in the past with stock that was mostly VHS. You can get on eBay right now, type in VHS lot and click highest priced first and still see some of these people trying to get rid of an entire store’s stock. You will see people who had nice stores at once, left with a packed garage full of forgotten VHS tapes in plastic cases branded with the shop name they once ran. I said before that my mother had one of these local places in a small town. Luckily she saw it coming and cashed out right in time. The next owners closed it down within two years time (not before I raided the SNES part of the store, hahaha!).
A NEW MARKET IS BORN
Continuing our analogy of video stores as people, they weren’t really bad teenagers, but things got a little weird in adulthood. Shops now had an odd faction enter the equation, the postal service. The Internet was becoming more and more common and just about every house had some form of computer during the late 90s. Then, on September 23, 1999 a little website called Netflix launched – the online video store! Suddenly, movies could be sent to your doorstep within a day or two and all you had to do is click-click-click and BOOM! How convenient!
Netflix didn’t catch on right away, most people didn’t even know about it until much later, but there were those that did. No one wants to load up a car of hyper-excited children after a full day of work to wait on them an hour (or more) to pick out a movie or game. Nor did anyone want to take a chance of having to ride through traffic to be disappointed at the video store when the title they had been thinking about all day wasn’t in stock because the asshole who cut you off in traffic ten minutes ago got it already. So, savvy customers slowly started migrating to this new service called Netflix. No gas, no time, no effort… a new market was born.
THE FINAL DEATH NAIL: INSTANT STREAMING
Growing old and death are ultimately both inevitable. By the mid 2000s, the Internet had become a part of just about everything. It gave us convenient access to information and products everywhere. Every the crafty competitor, Netflix took notice and started allowing you to watch movies online. The concept was simple: remove the middle man and offer the product immediately. It didn’t take long for streaming to take over the market. Now all you had to do was just sit on your couch surfing for something and enjoy.
Sure, we had things like Video-on-Demand and Pay-Per-View for awhile at this point, but the cost was per showing. Streaming is a club you buy into monthly and get access to the club’s entire library. Today, there is a “stream” for just about everything , and if it isn’t streaming you can likely purchase it and do a direct download. Movies, shows and video games… all just clicks away. And just like that, even the largest video store chains were forced to close down. Video stores, as they were previously known, effectively died.
THE TRUE KILLER… CONVENIENCE
So what killed the video store? It was NETFLIX! No… not really. It’s easy to blame Netflix because that’s when we really took notice of the decline in rental shops across the country, but no, that’s not what really killed them. Our want for convenience and the need for something bigger and better killed the video stores. We do it every day in some shape or form, like passing up the .99 two liter and pay $1.60 for the 20oz because it fits in our vehicle’s drink holder – all in the name of convenience. Not that there’s anything wrong with it either but that convenience comes with forms of “price.”
I have so many fond memories of weekends and sleep overs, a lot of which stem and formed from a trip to the video store. Those are experiences future (and even current) generations aren’t going to have. They wont miss them either because, well, they don’t know about them. Convenience is more than likely going to kill off other things as well. For instance, tablets have already had an impact on publishing; magazines and book companies will eventually be moving over to all digital and newsstands – maybe even comic book stores – may become a relic of the past. So the next time you’re out riding through town and pass up where your old video store was, and the person next to you makes the comment: “Wonder why they had to shut down?” Just respond with a smile and say, “Convenience.”