The Death of Video Stores: A World of Magic Lost to Convenience

Morné Visagie
4 min readDec 6, 2022

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Photo by Sean Benesh on Unsplash

It’s a Friday afternoon, the school bell rings and you are released to the weekend. You run outside, your dad picks you up, and he tells you that you are getting takeout for dinner. The day can’t get better, but it does. After picking up food, your dad takes you to the video store. You get to pick any movie you want. The world is your oyster and you couldn’t be happier.

Video stores were wonderful locations where, for a small price, visitors could rent movies for a few days (before returning them). Rows and rows of shelves housing thousands of hours of cinematic stories, these places birthed countless memories and were truly special in the process.

In 1977, the first video store opened. At the peak of their popularity, there were tens of thousands of locations all over the world. From VHS through the rise of DVDs, video stores were a societal staple that many thought would never go away. But they did. As of 2022, there are 771 DVD, game & video rental businesses left in the US. This number is going down fast, and soon there will be practically none left. So, what happened?

Video stores died because fewer and fewer people had a need for them. The dawn of digital media and streaming meant that anyone with a decent internet connection was able to watch any movie, whenever they wanted. Platforms such as Netflix began to provide a wide catalogue, for a reasonable monthly fee. Going to a video store was easy but it wasn’t effortless. You would need to drive to the shop, pay for the movie you want and then make your way home. In many cases, the store may have had a limited selection or certain movies may have been unavailable. On paper, this doesn’t sound like fun. Yet, for so many people, it was a magical experience that has never been replicated.

Entering a video store represented an escape into a world of wonder. With the workday over (or school closed), being able to pick a movie to enjoy in the evening was extremely satisfying. Going through each section (often divided by genre) and trying to judge a film on its cover alone, the quality of your choice wasn’t always obvious. But this uncertainty was thrilling (as silly as it sounds). Of course, these emotions are amplified tenfold for children as the world is a lot more magical when you are younger. In many ways, video stores symbolise adolescence at its most fun. Now that these stores are mostly gone, what do new generations have to replace them?

Today, when a kid finishes school and completes their chores, they are able to pull up Netflix and watch anything they want. It’s quick, easy and convenient. But why would a child want to do this in the first place? The oversaturation of media in our society has resulted in films losing their value. Today, kids would much rather choose YouTube over a movie. However, this is another discussion that deserves its own article, so we won’t be addressing it here.

If we focus on movies, one might argue that streaming services have stripped them of their magic. Holding onto a DVD case in a video store was an extraordinary experience as it was filled with anticipation for what was to come. You would cherish the film even before you watched it. Taking 2-minutes to pick a movie online is undoubtedly inferior in many ways. Yes, going to the video store took effort, but it was precisely this effort that made it special.

Moulded by convenience, future generations won’t be able to fathom what is described here. Because of this, they will lose what was a vital part of many people’s lives. It’s likely that the alluring nature of video stores will be replaced by something else, but it probably won’t be related to movies. Decades ago, a good film could be absolutely life-changing if you watched it at the right age. Unfortunately, the youth of today may very well consider cinema to be nothing more than light entertainment.

If you think about your favourite films, there is a good chance that you watched them at a young age. Miraculous and mesmerising, these are movies that you will likely watch until the day you die. You love them not only because they are well-made but because they transport you to a time when you had far fewer worries. A time when entering the video store was like jumping into outer space. Cinema is art in its finest form and video stores were museums that housed the best pieces in all their glory.

The tragedy of video stores is that their death makes sense. They will never come back because there is no demand for them. Truthfully, even those with nostalgia wouldn’t support them properly. Maybe this statement is wrong and maybe there is a world where video stores can be revived. Unfortunately, thoughts like this are probably trapped in the past, not the present. For now, video stores are just a memory of a time when things were simpler, an era where effort birthed value. This doesn’t mean that this period was better, but in some ways, maybe it was.

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Morné Visagie

Here to put words to the endless thoughts inside my head.