Almanac Life: Video Store



In the period immediately prior to downloading, streaming and pay tv, any suburb or town worth its salt had a video store. In Williamstown we were fortunate enough to have three, which did create the inconvenience of carting about three membership cards in your wallet. But it also meant that if one store did not have the movie which you were seeking, a quick scoot around the corner to another video shop might just reap the desired rewards.


These shops were epicentres of the community. In their heyday they bore witness to the comings and goings of local citizens of all ages and social status. It was par for the course to spot our federal member of parliament browsing the shelves of action movies. Only we Williamstown folk knew that a government minister was a Schwarzenegger devotee. Then there were the footballers. Williamstown was a VFA powerhouse in the 1980s, so to catch a glimpse of a Terry Wheeler or a Barry Round perusing the latest releases while you were in the store, was an added bonus.


One of the shops had a small room at the rear which was partitioned off by a flimsy curtain. A sign above the doorway read “Adults Only”. I never really felt adult enough to enter, even after I turned 18, but the boys and I would snigger and guffaw if someone we recognized emerged from the adults’ room surreptitiously clutching a tape. The VHS tape would be placed by the proprietor into a plain, non-descript box to protect the secrets of the renter of the stick film.


Movie nights with a couple of the latest releases were social events to be savoured. But curses would be rained down upon the anonymous previous renter who had not bothered to rewind the tape before returning it and, in so doing, wasting precious minutes of our time. And at the completion of a film we had rented for a fiver, how often would we wonder at how the film had managed to gain a theatrical release?


Unless you were on a first-name basis with the store manager, to lose your video store membership card was the gravest of errors. Without that small laminated identification card, with the barcode for scanning on the rear (an advancement considered by all to be a marvel of modern technology!), your plans for hiring a blockbuster for the evening could be left in tatters, and no amount of pleading would change the situation. An even worse mistake was not returning the video cassette by the allotted time the following day (for latest releases), or the next week (for older videos). Oversights such as these would cost one an extra night’s rental fee, with the salt rubbed further into the wound if the film was of dubious quality. On one occasion, I returned five videos, but the store later rang to say that one of the boxes was empty. I unsuccessfully searched high and low, and called back to insist that they must be mistaken. Months later I found the offending tape under the driver’s seat of my car, after which I anonymously posted the tape back to the store.


The demise of the video store was brutal and swift. Where once we put our name on a list behind the counter, reserving our place to ensure we would not miss out on a hot new film, this same film was now being flogged off in a closing-down sale for 50 cents. The Covid-19 lockdown has brought with it an increase in television viewing hours. But, somehow, pressing a button on the remote-control labelled “Netflix” does not have any of the romance, or social interaction, of trip to the video store.



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About Darren Dawson

Always North.


  1. Kevin Densley says

    A nicely reflective piece, Smokie. Pleasantly nostalgic, too.

  2. Rulebook says

    Well played,Smokie yes those memberships cards in your wallet and spot on heaven help us if you lost one.
    I smiled re the flimsy curtain I was exactly like you

  3. “Sorry mate Police Academy 7 is out.”
    “Bugger. When’s it due back?”
    “Oh. I might get number 6 and watch it again.”

  4. Rick Kane says

    Some brilliant reflections Smoke, even if your rose coloured glasses.are a little too misty. Video stores have two eras. The beginning, and I’m with you on memorialising that era. In fact the first video store we had membership to was an Adults Only shop on Barracks St in Perth CBD. We had to go through the curtain to get past the weird and wonderful stocks on offer. But behind the curtain, for some inexplicable reason, was a treasure trove of great movies. A library of choices well beyond your average video store. Heaps of concert films for example. Plenty of European and Asian cinema classics.

    For a while people invested in video stores because they loved films. That era deserves the rose coloured glasses take. The second era I call the end. The Blockbuster franchisation of an ideal. People started to invest in video stores and video chains because they could make moolah. Nothing wrong with that in principle. In real time local video stores started to close up shop because they couldn’t compete with Blockbuster who had 50 copies of the latest releases but not one copy of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. The ideal of the video store turned sour a long time before the online revolution.

    If you had a good local video store well done. If not, you travelled, as we did a number of time living in share houses in the 80s. When I arrived in Melbourne in 1992, apart from travelling on a tram, going to the Espy and seeing the footy at the G the other thing I did was find a good video store. Living in North Fitzroy meant reasonable choice. However, we struck gold with the video store across the road from the Lord Newry. That was a find.


  5. Noury Sibaei says

    Be kind! ! Rewind !

  6. Luke Reynolds says

    I haven’t heard the term “stick film” for a long time, laughed at that reference!

    In the 1990’s the little local video shop became a hub for teenage boys after starting to stock sports cards (post Scanlens). You could trade two of your swaps in exchange for that Ian Fairley card you needed. Sadly that store has long since closed. Not that long ago there was two large video outlets in Colac, one does remain but has greatly downsized into a much smaller premises.

  7. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I bought a stick book once but it turned out to be full of Glenelg and Carlton stories.

    Friday night was always pizza and video night in the 80s. The first video we ever hired was Trading Places. It was a very useful movie to learn about the remote control buttons, especially rewind and pause.

  8. Brett Hann says

    I went there with a Willy local who introduced me to the store manger. After that I had access to the filing cabinet through the curtain

  9. Smoke the demise of the first phase video shop (as old mate R Kane points out above) was similar to the demise of the old wine shops. Where once there was intrigue and variety and the opportunity to explore there was now just standard fare and row after row of tedium.

    But the old video shops were sensational.
    “Anyone feel like watching Dirty Harry?”


  10. craig dodson says

    Great read!

    When I was a kid in Wagga, we had a Betta Video player! Essentially for every 5 VHS new release copies, there was only one Betta! Tuesday night was the only night we ever found anything available!

  11. Thanks for your comments, one and all. Much appreciated.

    Like the milk bar, the video store now belongs to a bygone era.

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