You can’t think or talk about the 80s without talking about 80s video stores. They were all the rage back then. Long before we had digital copies, iTunes, Netflix and so much more, we physically had to go to the video store to RENT movies.
If you grew up in this era, you would remember the emergence of the VHS machine. When it first came out, they were expensive, and nobody could afford to buy one. So that left one other option to get the product into the hands of the consumers and that was a rental business. That leads us right into the history of the Video Store.
When it comes to video rental stores, we need to go back to the late 70s. The very first video rental store was opened in Germany in 1977 by Eckhart Baum. He kind of discovered the video rental market strictly by accident. Back then, he was a collector of Super 8 film and he would lend them out to his friends to watch.
After realizing how much his friends enjoyed watching his movies, he decided to turn it into a legitimate business. He adapted along the way to VHS of course and then later moved to discs. This little business idea of his, was such a great idea and so popular that as of 2015, the store still existed. Even in a market where physically renting movies is really a thing of the past.
A couple of years later in 1977, the idea hit the US. The first store was opened in LA, after a deal was struck with 20th Century Fox and Magnetic Video. They agreed to release 50 of their movie titles for sale for real people to buy. A gentleman by the name of George Atkinson purchased the titles and turned around to create a business by renting them out in a storefront.
It didn’t take long for the idea and concept to explode into the entire country and then worldwide. There were video stores on every corned and in every neighborhood.
VHS/Betamax machine rentals
As I said at the beginning although movies were finally available for the consumer to buy or rent, that meant that you needed a Beta or VHS Recorder to play the movies one.
The average cost of a movie machine when they first came out in the late 1970’s was massively expensive. A Betamax machine for example cost approximately $2300. YUP that expensive!
The competitor the VHS player, came in at a bit lower price at around $1000-$1400. But still extremely expensive. So, although you could buy and rent movies, if you couldn’t afford a machine, you were left out of the loop.
Let’s be honest, most families back then could not afford to buy their family a Beta or VHS machine.
That left a gap in the market for companies to not only offer movie rentals, but you could also rent the machines from them. Just imagine, walking into a video store to pick out your movie rentals and walking out with a huge suitcase with a machine and your movies.
At that time, you couldn’t just walk in and pay a $5 rental fee and walk out with your movie, NOPE!
You physically had to pay a membership fee to become a member. That gave you the ability to rent the machine and a movie for a night and then bring it back the next day. You could pay more if you wanted to keep it for longer. The whole thing boiled down to the cost of the machine and the movie together. It certainly was not a cheap thing to do.
Remember too that yes once you paid your membership you had the machine and movie, but you now had to go home and hook it up to your TV. Certainly, this made it a much bigger venture then just popping in the disc like we do now.
My 1st video store
When I think back to that time, I am amazed at the lengths that we would go to watch movies. It was a heck of a lot harder than the easy way we watch movies today.
In my city of Saskatoon, the very first video store that I remember, was on 22nd St. It was called Just New Releases. This video store was a club membership only place. That meant that depending on how many movies you wanted to rent at once time, this was reflected in your monthly rental fee.
YES, MONTHLY RENTAL FEES!
Back then for $9.99 per month, you could rent one movie and a time. Once you watched that movie, you could bring it back and rent another one. If you wanted the ability to rent 2 movies at a time, the monthly fee went up to $19.99 per month. WOW, it sure was expensive to rent movies back then.
I remember how exciting it was every weekend to browse through the store and pick out your movie or movies. Everything was of course sorted in categories like Horror, Action, Drama, Comedy etc. There were so many, that it literally was not a quick pick.
We were lucky enough that my dad paid for the 2-movie deluxe rental fee, so we could pick out 2 movies at a time.
You could literally spend an hour, just trying to decide what movies you wanted to rent for the night.
We would get our friends together for slumber parties at birthdays or special occasion and all lay in front of the TV watching movies. Back then, that was how we would entertain ourselves with our friends.
Jump ahead to 1985, when a little store called Blockbuster Video opened its doors. This video store was truly the essence of 80s and 90s video stores.
The head of the company David Cook opened the very first store in Dallas, Texas. His inventory consisted of 8000 VHS movies and around 2000 Beta movies. Although movie rentals companies were around by then, his concept for their stores was to GO BIG!! That meant lower prices and more movies to choose from.
By 1987 a guy by the name of Wayne Huizenga jumped into partnership with Blockbuster and acquired around 19 stores. We all know that obviously this idea BLEW UP and exploded. Pretty soon there was a Blockbuster in every city across Canada and the US.
With Blockbuster, you didn’t have to pay a membership fee, but you did have to join to be a member. That meant giving your name, address and phone number, just in case you didn’t bring the movie back on time. And of course, if you were late returning the movie, then they would hit you with late fees, the next time you tried to rent.
There were so many late fees in fact, that at one time Blockbuster stated that 18% of its revenue came from late fees. So approximately $800 million dollars. WOW!!
Just thing about how many late movies that was.
Blockbuster’s success was unstoppable. They bought up rival companies and weeded out the competitors. The name of the game was big business. Although there were still some mom-and-pop places on your street corner, the larger business went to Blockbuster.
Like many new products when they first come to market, the cost is usually extremely high. This was so true of VHS and Beta video machines. As I said above the price of owning a machine in the early 80s was ridiculous. Like everything though, as time goes on, the price goes down.
The VHS machine rivalled Betamax as a direct competitor for the video recorder machines. Eventually though VHS won out to become the only brand of video machines available on the market.
Once this happened, the cost of the machines dropped dramatically. They were now only a few hundred dollars and were therefore purchased by almost every household.
That meant the VHS rental machine was slowly phased out and people just went to the video store to rent their movies.
By the end of the 80s and into the 90s, the whole game really changed.
Along with not needed to fork out the money for the machine rental, stores like Blockbuster and Rogers Video only charged you a per day movie charge. If you wanted, you could even rent the movie for a week. The cost of the rental was around $3-$5 depending on where you rented it from. Video stores would even offer 2 for 1 pricing on rentals.
This entire market was saturated with customers and demand, so that lead to these lower costs and more affordability.
The good ole days
I know that things never stay the same and that no matter what they are going to change. The 80s video store concept was living proof of that. In the 80s the concept was new and fresh. People were excited to rent movies and spent quality time with their friends and families.
For me, I still remember when the Just New Releases store went out of business. It as a sad day for our family. Just like that the store was out of business and we literally had no warning. I remember that at the time, we had one of their movies in the house and no way to return it. The movie of course was “Valley Girl”, one of my all-time favourite 80s movies.
For my sister and I, that just meant that we could watch it repeatedly, and we did. I want to say that I have probably seen that movie 100 times or more. HAHA!
One day we did eventually get a letter from the closed business saying to mail the movie back to them, which we did. But wow was that ever awesome having that movie that long. Remember this was an era when nobody owned movies. I know hard to imagine, but that is how it was.
With the emergence of big business in video stores, everyone was renting movies on the weekend. It was just what we all did.
When I think back, I miss those days. Yes, now we have movies at our fingertips with Netflix and digital streaming, but it just isn’t the same.
You know how people still like to take books out from the library and they have that library smell? Well, it is very much like that for me. I loved walking through the aisles looking at all the movie choices and always having a hard time picking out my movie.