It’s Friday morning. I’m not at work today as I’m still in lockdown… and ‘between jobs’.

Had this been a standard Friday, I’d be eagerly looking forward to the weekend ahead. A weekend filled with promise and potential – the possibility of spending a carefree evening, plus two whole days, away from the hustle and bustle of work.

Of course that’s not on the cards for me today. Today I sit in my house.

But you know, I’ve always been a fan of Fridays. Friday nights and Saturday mornings are my dream combination.

Friday nights, where you can just kick back without the fear of an early morning wake up. Saturday mornings, where you can lie-in, watch easily digestible TV shows and contemplate the day ahead.

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I guess my fondness for the Friday/Saturday combo harks back to being a kid; when I had no responsibilities and when weekends were filled with cartoons, comics, a McDonald’s (bought with pocket money), and an early evening takeaway. Oh, and most important of all, a visit to the video rental store!

Of course, I can still do many of these things today if I wish (pandemic permitting), but I can’t visit video rental stores and that’s a real shame.

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Video stores: A fallen hero

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For those who are too young to recall, a video rental store or a video shop, was a place where people would go to rent the latest movie releases. It might seem odd that I’m explaining this, as a lot of people know what a video shop is, but I’m future-proofing my content for when the next generation stumbles across this post.

Anyway, in short, video shops were like Netflix but instead of streaming a movie in your home, you left the house, went to a shop filled with VHS tapes & DVDs, spent an hour choosing what you wanted to watch, and then took the tape/disc home with you on a short-term loan.

You could also rent games in the same way too. This was a much more cost-effective way of trying out the latest Mario game, and it was very popular.

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Putting the game rental benefit to one side, for the generation who have grown up with Netflix, the idea of going to a video shop may seem laborious. Having to leave the house, interact with other humans, make an informed choice based on what was available in the store, all with the knowledge that you’d have to take the item back, sounds like hard work – and it was! But it was also fun.

And I miss it.

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Knowing you were going to rent a video was an exciting thing. The endless possibilities of what you could rent, coupled with the idea that if you were lucky your parents might agree to TWO films, was enough to put your mind into overload!

Again, this might not seem all that exciting to today’s generation, but back then (the ‘80s & ‘90s) we only had four TV channels, so a trip to the video shop was like a gateway into another world. A world that had a certain penchant for Jackie Chan movies or anything with Cynthia Rothrock.

This was also during an age (pre-digital) when children’s programming was restricted to two hours at tea-time (3:30pm-5:30pm) and a few hours on weekend mornings. As a kid, going into a video store meant having access to a range of children’s movies and cartoons, which certainly helped relieve the boredom of BBC Grandstand (look it up).

For me, a trip to the video shop was closely linked to Friday nights or Saturday mornings (sometimes Saturday afternoons). These tended to be the times when we’d head to the shop to take out a tape for the weekend.

If you rented a tape on a Friday night then it didn’t need to go back until Sunday evening. This seemed to be the best outcome all round, as it covered the entire weekend.

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Walking into the shop I never knew what I’d walk out with. Would it be a new comedy starring Steve Gutenberg? Would it be a poorly animated feature that had great box art but no story? Or would it be BMX Bandits (1983) – a movie we rented so often we probably financed Nicole Kidman’s early career.* (*BMX Bandits starred Nicole Kidman – again, look it up.)

No matter what we rented, it was always an exciting experience. The build-up before we got there; the fun of parading the aisles (avoiding the adult-themed movies I was clearly not meant to see); the smell of popcorn wafting throughout the shop – it was all heaven.

For the best part of 20 years we’d go to the same shop. Oh, it had a name change (or three) over the years, but in essence it was the same place and it was always bright and inviting.

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In fact, I enjoyed going there so much that for three years, during my post-high school years, I even worked at the video shop, serving customers and checking out tapes. To this day, despite the long hours and crap pay (it was very crap pay), it remains one of my favourite jobs.

No doubt I’ll talk a little more about my video shop career in a future post. I’m sure you all can’t wait to read about my adventures in rewinding video tapes.

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Yep, we really did have to rewind video tapes. And yes, it was a pain in the arse.

But arse pain aside, working there was pretty cool. And going there as a customer was even cooler.

I really do miss it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Netflix and I totally understand why the video shop model died, but that still doesn’t mean I’m not forever mourning its passing.

Obviously, the store I used to visit/work at isn’t around anymore. The video shop became a casualty of the internet and it closed down during the ‘00s.

To the best of my knowledge, the store is a Subway restaurant now and as much as I like sandwiches (who doesn’t?), the place is less appealing to me in its current guise. Although, if you’re heading to Subway, mine’s a footlong!

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The last time I visited a video shop was back in ‘07 (a simpler time, before the monster that is COVID-19 consumed our lives). That shop was a Blockbuster store situated just down the road from my house.

To think that was 13 years ago now. Such a long time since I experienced that video shop buzz.

*Looks off to the distance wistfully*

Ah, memories.

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Today, as I mope about the house (no doubt watching a crap movie on Netflix, possibly starring Cynthia Rothrock), I’ll spare a thought for the once mighty video shop. How much joy it brought me, how much popcorn it provided me with, and how much I miss it.

Those who didn’t live through the video rental age will never know the dizzying heights of finding a must-see title sat on the shelf during a busy Saturday. They’ll also never know the crashing lows of popping in for a browse and being made aware you needed to pay your late fees.

Gone, but never forgotten.

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