Leo Craven On… Mom and Pop Video Rental Stores

Video Rental Stores

Each week, one of Biff Bam Pop’s illustrious writers will delve into one of their favorite things. Perhaps it’s a movie or album they’ve carried with them for years. Maybe it’s something new that moved them and they think might move you too. Each week, a new subject, a new voice writing on… something they love.

There are few things (if any) I remember more fondly from my childhood than the days of going to the locally-owned video rental store and looking over hundreds of movie boxes in order to score the perfect entertainment for the evening. The Golden Age of these marvelous ‘meccas’ of movie eye candy started in the early 80’s and lasted until the mid-90’s when major video chains like Blockbuster Video and Hollywood Video took over the landscape. While most people do not look back on the chains with fondness, I for one am glad they came along…because I’d have a lot harder time liking Netflix if it had displaced our local business owners. Putting the video chains out of business, on the other hand, made me a fan of Netflix from the start!

Resentment for Blockbuster aside (I worked for one while I went to college = awful experience!), allow me to venture down memory lane with you…

Video Rental Stores


We had a couple of video stores pop up in my home town of McMinnville, Oregon, but the one I’ll always remember was “Universal Video” opening in 1985. The store owner’s name was Bruce Jones, a guy in his 40’s with the classic Magnum P.I. mustache, and a love of movies. At the time of opening, he stocked a respectable number of titles for both Betamax and VHS, which was fortunate since we owned the former. I learned early on from watching my dad, that buying ‘the first’ of tech wasn’t always the way to go. We were one of the first to have a Betamax and one of the last to have a VHS. One of the first to have a video game console (Texas Instruments TI-99) and one of the last to have a Nintendo. With that said, I wouldn’t trade my memories of watching Star Wars for the first time on our Betamax or playing “Munchman” on the ol’ TI-99 for anything.

For most of you reading this, I hope that you had the same wonderful experience as I did when you walked into your local mom and pop video store. There were usually a few movie posters hung under the front counter with tape, a couple of cardboard movie standups, the sound of employees giving customers recommendations for movies, and shelves filled with movie boxes from any genre you could ask for. In 1985 I was mainly limited to the family section (I had two younger siblings), but occasionally I was able to duck my big-brother responsibilities while my parents & sibs were looking over the new releases, and I would venture to the Horror section…



Ah, yes, those were the days. As a marketing professional, I can appreciate how influential the cover art of those boxes could be to getting someone to rent a movie. I remember taking mental note of every movie in the video store, especially the horror section, as I’d view each and every box, front and back, until my parents said it was time to go (my dad and I had similar tastes in movies so I never had to worry about being part of the movie selection process). Those movie boxes made such an impression on me that I fully admit having a few nightmares over just the cover art for Critters, Fright Night, House, Nightmare on Elm Street, etc. As soon as I was old enough, I tried to rent as many of them as possible, although the terror of the actual film paled in comparison to what I had created in my own mind.

When I was scanning Google Images I literally found myself wanting to include about a hundred box covers in this post. Instead, if you were lucky enough to experience the Golden Age of video rental stores, I invite you to conduct your own search on some of your favorite movies (‘movie name’ + ‘VHS box cover’), and take a quick dip in the pool  of nostalgia.

As the 80’s wrapped up and the 90’s moved in, video rental stores started to grow in size. Even the mom and pop stores were adding a significant amount of inventory, including video games, to keep themselves competitive with the large chains that were starting to emerge. In addition, my favorite local video store had to change its name three times due to business licensing issues: from “Universal Video” to “Hollywood Video” and finally to the “The Reel Hollywood Video“. Bruce Jones remained the owner, steadfast in his resolve to keep things ‘local’ in our growing town, and moved his business into a nearby space that allowed him to quadruple the size of the store. Of course, when I turned 16, there was only one place I wanted to work…

Be Kind, Rewind


I’m pretty sure that working at a video rental store has to be one of the best ‘first jobs’ ever! While my friends were stuck working at fast-food chains, grocery stores and gas stations, I was living it up giving movie recommendations and watching as many straight-to-video releases as time would allow. The only thing that could ever dampen my ‘film-tastic’ experience was the dreaded customer who always took advantage of the “5 prior releases for 5 days for $5”, and then returned all five movies, none of them rewound, in some wet plastic bag (it rained A LOT in McMinnville, OR). We usually had 4 or 5 rewinders going at once, but they burned out faster than Kristen Stewart’s post-Twilight career, and inevitably they all seemed to burn out at once, on Friday night at 6 PM, when everyone came into the store looking for the last copy of The Firm or The Fugitive…and the only copy returned hadn’t been rewound! Thus were the hardships of a video store clerk…

The Reel Hollywood Video

This was the last picture I could find of The Reel Hollywood Video (circa 1995). I believe it has since moved to a smaller location and is under new ownership, but I like to keep that reality suppressed. Instead, I choose to believe that somewhere, in an alternative universe, the big video chains never took over, the internet was never invented, and mom and pop video rental stores still exist in their glory, renting VHS tapes (let’s go ahead and erase the advent of DVD’s as well).

2 Replies to “Leo Craven On… Mom and Pop Video Rental Stores”

  1. Great post, nostalgic to look back at the time when we still had these small video stores, before all the big chains moved in. The small video shops were fantastic, great to see all the title and covers! Sounds like one of the best first jobs ever! Oh, and I always used to rewind the tapes before taking them back! I can just imagine how annoying it must have been to have to rewind them all. What a nice article to remember happy times and places, great idea!

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