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I Was A Preteen Video Store Clerk for My Dad's Shop

Originally, I was going to make a list of the top 500 reasons we went out of business after 5 fruitful years renting VHS tapes and Nintendo games in Walden, NY, with none of the 500 reasons being BIG BAD BLOCKBUSTER stomping us out of town. However, why make a list when the story tells itself. 

“Tell me that again,” asked the frustrated customer renting a couple of seedy 80s horror videos over Turner and Hooch, the newest release.

“It’s J JN D Baseball Cards and Video.”

SIDE NOTE: We also sold baseball cards, candy, Pepsi and Coke, cigarettes without a license (cheapest in town), rock memorabilia (the old square Iron Maiden buttons and Guns ‘N Roses t-shirts), etc. 

“What? All of that. I’m trying to write a check. What the hell does that all mean anyway?”

It actually stood for John, John Norman, and David – my dad, myself, and my brother. Norman. Thankfully, my middle name.

I guess check-writing frustration led to about 6% of the reason we closed shop. 

My brother worked the register mostly and handled the books. Boring! I played the coin-ops in the store, including the original Street Fighter, hung up the movie posters in the windows, and hung out with the riff-raff in the village terrorizing other local businesses. 

Did it make sense to have a television equipped with cable behind the counter and off to the side with a Nintendo Entertainment System hooked up to it? Not at all. 

“John, my son was wondering if he could rent that new game, 720 degrees, that your son is playing on the TV,” asked a patron.  

“John Norman, put the game in the case so we can rent it,” my dad commanded with a little fear in his voice.

“No, when I’m finished,” I casually responded. 

Could the patron feel my dad’s blood boiling over inside his body or know that we were about a minute away from hurling the worst curse words you could think of at each other, as I stormed out of the store? Probably not. It was a business. This frequent display of outbursts between us probably accounted for about 15% of the closing. 

We purchased our movies from Commtron, a now defunct company that had a monthly catalog to order from and a warehouse about an hour away from our house that held a sales floor for video store owners, and believe it or not, it was close to impossible to get movie posters and standees until the Commtron Poster Pack was offered for $30.00 a month. The Commtron poster pack included 30 movie posters for the upcoming month. How cool was this? I got to open a box about the size that holds the Tommy Guns in old mafia movies, the old “I’m bringing flowers to my grandmother” box. 30 posters!!!

It was my job to place the posters in our store windows, which held a total of 6 posters, including a front-window display that all cars driving by and people walking on the sidewalk could see. Now, it only makes sense to make sure posters such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Batman, Dances with Wolves, JFK, etc. would don that front display. Not on that day though, or that month, or that year. I was a fan of horror movies above all and it only made sense that Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III stood front and center. After all, “the saw is family.” Great tagline! Many other movies, hated by critics but loved by me, made that front window. However, I only attribute this to 1% of our demise. We were in Walden.

Walden, New York, a town known for having bad water which led to bad teeth and lots of related people. It was so bad that a local radio station spent years bashing the town every morning leading to the main DJ, the Wolf, Jello-wrestling the mayor of our town at our high school. Who’s renting Dances with Wolves? A select few. When we visited Commtron’s sales floor we made sure to buy a handful of the seediest $5.00 movies nobody ever heard of. I’ll never forget this one movie I can’t remember the name of, but it was about a Vietnam vet and had a horrid front cover of mayhem, and we probably rented it out 200 times. The joke was if we put shit next to gold, shit would prevail. This didn’t take anything away from our business. 

Again, I loved horror. My father was a mailman by day and knew nothing about movies. Therefore, we had the largest horror selection probably in a 100 mile radius. Every Troma film, Vestron Video, Wizard Video, the Faces of Death movies, big box horror, and even Make them Die Slowly, which was banned in I can’t remember but about 35 countries. Still not losing business. Let me think. 

The box. The box. The box. We had a selection of movies that were for adults only. They weren’t behind a curtain or in a room by themselves. They were flattened in a box, placed into plastic protectors, and placed about 8 feet from the counter on top of a glass case containing baseball cards. Hey, we had Cal Ripken’s rookie card and Wade Boggs’. The problem. Imagine if you would a mom bringing her son or daughter into the store to rent a movie or game and waiting in line. Adjacent to them is Neighbor Bob, Gas Station Service Man Pete, or Is that…no it can’t be. It is! This had to be about 50%. 

The memories are so vivid at times, watching every movie that came out from 1989 – 1995 and playing every NES, Sega Genesis, Super NES, and a few TurboGrafix 16 games. Eating endless 5-cent gummy worms, drinking Yoo Hoo from the bottle, and stealing another handful of quarters from the cashbox to push into Outrun or Gauntlet coin-op. Cursing back and forth with my father, getting to know the “local” kids and making bad choices, and clipping clothes pins back on the rubber band hugging the VHS box indicating Jason Takes Manhattan: Friday the 13thpart 8 is back in stock. I’ll never forget.  

Oh, and I apologize. The other 29% of the reason we closed? The Great Balls of Fire standee that actually played Jerry Lee Lewis but stayed way too long on display, the cat, potty training the nephew behind the counter, and ripping off great friends and neighbors. 

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Vaporman87 Posted on Apr 22, 2022 at 09:00 PM

Folks prefer some images scattered throughout the articles. But, having said that, this was an entertaining look into the "behind the counter" action in a video store. Those will be memories cherished forever, no doubt. Especially now that they've gone the way of the Dodo.

Benjanime Posted on Apr 20, 2022 at 05:14 PM

not bad for a first article, i could imagine you having some friends sit down as you tell them this story in these exact words. i recall being in some stores like these in a stagecoach market area in gloucester, virginia. there was a no smoking policy but one of the employees certainly had that cigarette smell coming off of their clothes and they had some sci-fi comics on little magazine stands while having some other novelties in the corners of the store (i think they also had some model cars of nascar vehicles).

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