While MBIB was hiatus the group of us occasionally got together to discuss story ideas for the next phase of MBIP. Chip Joyce suggested an article on old video rental stores to me. I've already done gas stations, steakhouses, grocery stores so this seemed like a perfect fit.
It doesn't seem that long ago Peoria was littered with numerous video rental shops. Nearly every neighborhood shopping district had a locally owned rental store. For a while it seemed everywhere there was video store. Just as recently with the opening of Schnuck's in the late 90's the store had a full video rental room.
Video stores were great for fans of drive-in theaters. Most had closed in the mid-80's, probably expedited by rentals, so this was the next best thing. How else are you going to see Evil Dead or Eating Raoul?
A whole new film genre was created—direct-to-video. No need for hustling low budget movies into theaters, just get them in a few 100 rental stores and you're making money! Thousands of these movies were made, mostly horror and slasher movies.
Plus the novelty of recording TV programs or movies with the capabilities to re-watch thousands of times over was brilliant. You no longer needed to wait a year to see Wizard of Oz or The Great Pumpkin, they were always there all the time.
For movie junkies like myself it was exciting to see a new stores open. Would there be weird vintage horror? Maybe concert or music videos? Perhaps classic noir and crime movies? Each store reflected the owners movie interest, even if it was a basic new release store with basic back stock catalog, there would still be a handful of forgotten movies worth checking out. Plus there was always the notorious "back room,” for those brave enough to enter and those even braver to exit with a XXX video to rent.
I was an avid enough viewer that owning two VCR's was a necessity. One to view, the other to make a copy of the rental. If I paid three dollars to rent a movie, I wanted to make a copy so I could watch it over and over for free in the future. In the early 80's blank tapes sold for fifteen bucks, so recording at six hour slow speed was an economic move, even if it meant losing picture quality. Still cheaper than paying fifty to one hundred bucks for pre-recorded tapes. By the late 80's blank tapes sold for under ten dollars, which at that time was sheer madness. Basic pre-records had dropped to twenty bucks.
The 90's saw the beginning of the end for locally owned video stores when Blockbuster started opening stores across the country. By having a minimum of 100 copies of each major new release, which was the bread and butter of stores, plus by having a deep catalog of older movies, the chain slowly picked off stores one by one. Best Buy was doing the same to record stores, Barnes and Noble and Border's to book stores. Niche sole proprietor mom and pop media stores were rapidly vanishing.
I took sadistic glee when Blockbuster started losing market share to Redbox. A genius concept, cheaper and more efficient than store rentals. Soon YouTube and hundreds more legal and illegal internet sites popped up, quickly Blockbuster went the way of all the video stores and they ran out of business in the late 90's. Coincidentally Border's is out of business too, Barnes and Noble uses as much floor space for toys and trinkets as they do books, Best Buy barely offers dvd's or cd's.
It's humorous looking back at how difficult it was to locate hard-to-find movies and music. Paying twenty five dollars a pop for lost TV programs, bootleg concert recordings, tape compilations of favorite bands, fifth generation horrible copies of underground films are now a thing of the past. Today a quick video search on Google or YouTube can get you free music clips, movies,TV shows etc. all pristine video quality.
Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime have revolutionized home viewing but it still isn't perfect. Everything is not available all the time. Subscribers get smatterings of James Bond, Clint Eastwood, Marilyn Monroe movies but never all of them or all the best. The old video stores had full libraries of essential classics available 24/7. One reason I still own dvd's and sell them at Acme Comics is the fact they are always accessible, and I don't have to wait for a movie to show up on Netflix.
There were so many video stores in Peoria all can't be listed, so just a few stores are highlighted below. K's merchandise was an early renter and seller. I recall new Star Wars for $150 there. Stars and Stripes and Carnival at Willow Knolls were two other bigger chains. Unfortunately I can't remember all the names of the stores, just locations.
The first video store in Peoria was located in the back portion of the middle area of Westlake, directly across from Westlake Cinemas. I didn't know this until I met my real estate agent, Jim Miller, in 2002. Opening in 1977 it later relocated to War Memorial, the current location of Columbia Rug. He hung in through the laser disc era, later closing when Blockbuster arrived.
Another early store was located in the strip mall near Monical's at Knoxville at Lake. It had a great inventory of vintage 40's and 50's movies and foreign. It may have been named Corner Video.
The classic Playmate Video was located downtown on Main Street, next door to the now current B Easy Sandwich shop. It was assumed it was just an adult video store but they had a great inventory of obscure underground movies, horror, and just plain weird VHS. The building briefly housed music store, The Dungeon, but it has been vacant for many years.
Where Bonanza Steakhouse once stood, Blockbuster once occupied the same area. Now it's a mere nail boutique. I guess the internet can't kill that business, but you never know!
The former Ben Schwartz grocery store later housed the now defunct Hollywood Video. When they moved out they didn't even bother to remove the video drop box!
What I think was the last standing sole owner video store was at University and Glen, now Mediterranean Mart. It may have been Cornerstore Video. They did survive during the Blockbuster purge but eventually fell due to the corporate giant.
Now there is only one video store in Peoria, Family Video with 3 locations. It seems they do pretty good business in spite of pay downloads and free sites.
I feel fortunate to have lived through media changes like drive-ins, midnight movies and funky video stores. At times it seemed more fun to hunt stuff down, it's just way to easy and lots less challenging when everything is a click away on the internet.