Savouring the video rental store experience all over again

The following Community Editorial is from the August 27 edition of the Guelph Mercury.

Savouring the video rental store experience all over again

Guelph Mercury
By Deirdre Healey

It felt like I had been taken back in time 20 years when I first walked into the movie rental store.

It sparked a flood of memories from when I was younger and my mother used to take my siblings and I to our neighbourhood video store. It was a bit of a family routine. Every Friday after my mother did the grocery shopping, we would go rent a couple movies for the weekend. And during the days before we had a VCR we would rent one of those too. The rule was the kids got to pick a video and my mom got to pick one.

I remember the walls covered in movie cases. The cases with a hook and a circular disc hanging under them were the ones that were still available. And the later we came, the fewer discs there were, which is why we rarely waited until Saturday morning to make our trip to the video store.

I also remember the woman who owned the store. She had long blonde hair, long painted fingernails and a British accent. She got to know what type of movies we liked and would make recommendations as to which new release to pick or help us choose if we couldn’t make up our minds.

But last, and definitely not least, I also remember the free popcorn. There it was warm and waiting near the front door for the taking. I would be lying if I didn’t say I went back for second, third and even fourth servings.

When I walked into the movie rental store a few weeks ago, it wasn’t the one from my childhood, but rather a store in Sauble Beach where we have been spending most of the summer. There wasn’t any free popcorn and the woman with the long blond hair and eye-catching fingernails wasn’t there, but there were still many of the elements that come with a trip to the video store. The walls were covered in movie cases and I perused them just as I did when I was younger only this time I had my kids in tow. And instead of just picking one, I now had the final say on both videos. There was a woman at the counter and I asked her advice on which movie to pick between two new releases I was having trouble making a final decision over. She was more than happy to chat and give her recommendations.

I’ve gone back to rent movies from this place a half a dozen more times and I love it. There’s something about physically looking through the movies and picking them out in person. My husband doesn’t understand it. Why would I want to get in the car and drive somewhere to pick up a movie when I could order one off cable from the comfort of my living room? Or why would I want to get a DVD that I would need to return two days later when I could just watch a movie online? Or why would I want to spend time interacting with someone and physically paying for a movie when I could just purchase one in silence with the click of the television remote?

Perhaps it’s the connection to my fond childhood memories. Perhaps I’m just old school. Or perhaps I simply like the idea of the experience. I like going to the store to see what movies they have. Scanning the walls, picking up the cases that look interesting and reading the backs where the story lines are summarized. I also like asking the person working there if they have seen the movie before and whether they liked it.

A majority of small movie rental shops were forced out of business in recent years by online movie services, but there are still some remaining thanks to others just like me who also enjoy that tangible experience. Here in Guelph we have Thomas Video. The local video rental business hasn’t changed much since it opened 29 years ago and it has still managed to maintain a loyal customer base.

The owner, Ian Findlay, says his customers were initially men under 35 but now women over 35 are the ones walking through his doors and the store has adjusted its collection to reflect that. He tries to maintain a relationship with his customers by sending out regular emails with information on the store’s latest movie releases as well as having a presence on Twitter and Facebook and ordering in movies customers request. But he points to customer service as the main reason why movie stores like Thomas Video have managed to remain standing. He says many movie-watchers still want the human interaction that comes with renting videos from a store. They want the opportunity to discuss films and hear recommendations.

I know I’m glad there are still video stores around. And I will continue to rent movies for as long as I can. It’s an enjoyable experience and the best way to get free popcorn.

Deirdre Healey is a local writer and communications specialist. Her column appears every Thursday.

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