Extra! Extra! I’m still digging through old newspapers! Recently, I pulled several newspaper ads for Hills Department Store and now I’m ready share more ads from a different type of store. Video rental stores have been on my mind ever since I agreed to produce the Rental Return podcast on The Retro Network. It’s been a real treat to hear the stories of former employees who worked at rental stores in their “heyday.”
During that era, a stop at the local movie rental store became a part of everyone’s weekly routine. While theaters still offered the latest films, video rental stores became the most convenient option to see films you missed the first time around. They also became a place to discover films you never knew existed. But whether you rented the latest releases or just wanted to explore a certain genre, video rental stores made it affordable to watch films in the comfort of your own home.
And just like all other small businesses (before national brands like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video took over), video rental and electronic stores advertised deals in local newspapers to lure customers. Here are several ads clipped from a variety of 1980s newspapers that are a nostalgic look back at a time when you traveled to a store to rent movies.
One of the early rental store chains was Erol’s which began renting videocassettes in 1980. Erol’s became the largest privately owned videocassette rental company in 1985 and grew to 208 stores across 5 states when it was sold to Blockbuster in 1990 for $40 million. I never visited Erol’s but this 1984 ad gives insight into their rental process. Their 6-month membership fee was $15 which allowed you to rent for $2 the first day and $1 each additional day. If you had a credit card on file, they’d let you rent 6 tapes at a time while no credit card limited you to 4 tapes. Erol’s also carried both VHS and Betamax tapes and this location in Fredericksburg, VA touted over 1,700 titles available to rent!
“Star Video turns anytime into showtime!” What a great slogan. This 1986 ad for Star Video in Lexington, NC also gives some insight into their operation. It appears they had different pricing for members and non-members. Star Video’s pricing was somewhat similar to Erol’s but essentially, you received an extra day at the $2.99 price for a 3-day rental. And their specials offered an extra rental over the weekend or on Tuesdays. Star Video also had both VHS and Betamax and a selection of movies you could buy outright.
If you lived through the rental store era, you’ll probably remember other retail stores like grocers and gas stations got into the rental game. Those retailers also included pharmacies as proved by this 1989 Phar-Mor ad in Albany, GA which offered a free membership with a photo ID and credit card. Pricing was unbelievably affordable with 69-cent rentals or $1.50 for 3 tapes for a two night period! They also bragged that their library had thousands of tapes.
If you owned a VCR in the late ’80s or early ’90s, you probably remember when cleaning the heads became an issue. I’m not sure if our VCR had problems, but I remember at one point we bought a cleaning kit with the special tape. It came with solution that you added to the tape and then played it in the VCR. This 1989 Authorized TV ad offers a $9.95 cleaning and inspection service for your VCR. While I’m sure it helped to extend the life of your machine, I think most of us probably bought the DIY cleaning kit for a comparable price just so we wouldn’t have to potentially board our VCR for an overnight stay.
Finally an ad with some actually movie images! This 1984 Adventure Land Video ad highlights some of the new releases which were in theaters the previous year like Mr. Mom, Gorky Park, and Smurfs and the Magic Flute. We also get some insight into Adventure Land Video which as a franchise had over 230 locations and teased more opening soon. They also had a $14.95 lifetime membership fee. I couldn’t find much about the Adventure Land Video brand online (surprisingly), but it appears stores were mainly located in Midwest and Western states.
This 1985 National Video newspaper coupon for Oregon area stores offers the entire rental experience in a Fun-Pak! In case you didn’t own a VCR, the low price of $7.95 got you the machine, 2 movies, and bag of Newman’s Own Oldstyle Picture Show Popcorn. You could also clip the coupon for a BOGO offer.
Finally, I thought it would be fun to share some ads for VCR prices of the time period to give some context. First, Bobby Ford Magnavox in Rome, GA offered a new VCR for $449.95 in a 1983 ad. Just below the details of the VCR, they also list a free movie club membership and the largest selection of VHS tapes in the area. Fast forward four years to Schneider’s Appliance in Owosso, MI which offers a Quasar brand VCR for $289 in a 1987 ad. The business also noted that they “service what we sell” which to my Dad was always important when dealing with electronics or appliance purchases.
I’ll be on the hunt for more Video Rental Store ads to share on The Retro Network in the future. Tell me in the comments if you remember interacting with any of these brands or businesses!