I know this to be true from my own personal experience: I haven't stepped inside a video store since 2005, if memory serves.
The good doctor's post got me reflecting long and hard on the golden age of the video store (say, roughly 1983 - 1999). So this is my eulogy for them. And like most eulogies, it's probably not terribly original, just...personal.
Simply stated, I came of age with video stores in the early 1980s.
Growing up in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, the video store that my family frequented was near Brookdale Park and the Shop Rite in Essex County. The store was named Currys.
Currys was your proverbial Mom & Pop operation, but with an unusually expansive and impressive collection. Of all the video stores that I have enjoyed over the years, this is the one I remember most vividly, and recall with the greatest affection.
It was...my first time.
The small shop boasted a vast back-room library filled with videotapes, which was accessible only to employees (in most cases, the proprietor's lovely daughters.) When you bought a full membership to Currys, as my family did, you became the recipient of the establishment's huge membership notebook, a heavy brick that was bound between blue covers. Inside was a single-spaced listing of all the available films at Currys by collection number. The catalog was your key to unlocking the video library.
The Currys catalog seemed to consist of all the titles known to man and God, and went on for what seemed like hundreds of pages. I remember the first time I began reading the document in earnest, marker in hand, gazing at what seemed an entire universe of titles. Ahead of me was the great pleasure of discovering decades of great --- and not-so-great -- movies. I surely must have spent hours with that catalog.
What the hell was Boxcar Bertha?
And what was that movie with a row of disembodied arms on a wall? Oh yeah, The Frozen Dead...
Picking out a movie to rent from Curry's was a case, often, of preparation and research. As the weekend neared, I would leaf through the huge catalog and look up the titles and code-numbers of the movies I hoped to rent. Periodically, the catalog would also be updated with new release flyers you could put in the back of the catalog.
Every weekend, my Dad and I would make our pilgrimage to Currys, armed with a list of about ten-to-fifteen titles and their corresponding code-numbers. The lists were always that long in the likely event that the first or second choice was already checked out and therefore unavailable. Seeing a second choice, or a sixth choice -- as the case might be -- meant that I began to see a huge number of older, lesser-known films rather than just the new, trendy release of the week.
The Currys experience was how I first encountered This is Spinal Tap. It is how I first saw Evil Dead. This is the way I first saw Yor, Hunter from the Future and the Lou Ferrigno Hercules. It was from Curry's that I first rented The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Pawnbroker, Bonnie & Clyde, Rosemary's Baby, Dawn of the Dead and other classics.
And, I remember something else distinctly too about this experience: the movies you rented at Currys arrived in your hands not in their specially-designed VHS sleeves, but rather in these large, anonymous, clunky brown, textured clam-shell boxes.
Today, I readily admit, this whole process sounds absolutely byzantine. But I loved it. Picking out movies from Curry's was a serious, exciting endeavor, and I'll always remember the thrill of carrying home six of those brown or black boxes under one arm. It was an amazing feeling to know that right there you had a weekend's worth of entertainment and discovery.
Twenty-two years since I was last there, Curry's still looms large in my imagination. In part this is because I know that even after renting hundreds, maybe thousands of movies there, I still only scratched the surface of the collection. I don't even know if the store is still in business, but I sorta, kinda doubt it...
When I moved to Richmond to go to college, there were other video stores that I dated, but most of them didn't carry the selection that Curry's did. Instead, new releases dominated these stores, and that took some of the fun out of the "rental" experience. These gals were shallow compared to Currys.
There was just something magical about going to Curry's, plucking an odd title out of the catalog (like Sorority Babes at the Slime Ball Bowl-a-rama) and then watching a movie that, heretofore, you never imagined could exist.
I'm not complaining about the way things are now. I love Netflix, I love the easy availability of most titles in the DVD (er, Blu-Ray) age. This is good; this is the way it should be: with the majority of film history at your finger tips, just ready to be discovered.
But sometimes, I miss the anticipatory act of compiling my Curry's list, of transcribing numbers, and waiting -- with some anxiety -- for the clerk to return with my clutch of selected movies, to see which titles would be in stock.
And some days, I still miss going to Curry's with my Dad, just for the fellowship of the journey and the experience. I wonder if my son, Joel, will gaze back at his youth and remember his dad picking up red envelopes from the mailbox and ripping them open to remove the small, square DVD sleeves.
I don't know that it's the same thing at all.