I bought a General Electric (made by Panasonic) video cassette recorder (VCR) back in 1984. It was a top-loading unit, that is now said to have been slightly ahead of its time. My Mother and I drove from the Hi-Fi shop to Ace Video in Roswell, Georgia, and joined.
I don’t remember what we rented, but we were hooked. Before video stores, movies were solely watched in theaters, leaving studios hesitant to embrace video technology and video stores because they feared for losses in revenues.
VHS was developed in Japan in the early 1970s, released in that country on September 9, 1976, and in the U.S. on August 23, 1977. In North America, the first three VHS movies released on the same day in 1977 were The Sound of Music, Patton, and M*A*S*H, at a retail price of $50 to $70 each. That was the problem back then. To own a video was a fortune. You had to really, really need to own that movie to fork out that kind of cash. The idea of renting a movie for a week for $3.99 was very appealing. Part of the fun was definitely browsing the selection in the store and then picking out a movie.
The world’s oldest business that rented out copies of movies for private use was opened by Eckhard Baum in Kassel, Germany in the summer of 1975. He started with Super 8 but moved to VHS and Optical as they became available.
The first professionally managed video rental store in the U.S., The Video Station, was opened by George Atkinson in December 1977 at 12011 Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.
Such stores led to the creation of video rental chains such as West Coast Video, Blockbuster Video, and Rogers Video in the 1980s. The movie industry tried to stop rentals, as they had tried to stop VHS recorders but they failed.
Video Games were also rented but not every store would get in on this. By mid-1985, the United States had 15,000 video rental stores, and many record, grocery, and drug stores also rented tapes. At our early Ace Video, if you returned it within 24 hours it was only a dollar. Some shops would also vent the VCRs, some had X-rated sections and some had both Betamax and VHS tapes.
There were penalties for not returning your rental on time as well as not rewinding them. I bought a tape rewinder (that’s all it did) to save the wear and tear on my expensive VCR. Blockbuster would occasionally put their older rentals up for sale. They had bought many copies, but as it became older not many were being rented.
This was a good way to get a rather pricey movie for your collection. As the price for purchases of new movies decreased, retail stores started having a “New” section as well as rentals. The grocery store, near my house, Ingles, had rentals and they also sold their old rental movie posters. They were a dollar and I used to buy the ones I liked. Blockbuster also sold popcorn and candy trying to make it more like a theater experience. All the stores would eventually change to DVD and later have Blu-rays. Blockbuster and most of these stores eventually pretty much have faded away.