The Grocery Store Rental

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  • Though it may be tough to admit it, I’m getting old. My wife and I spend our weekends working on the house, we talk (seriously) about starting a family and I care about the quality of my near-perfectly edged lawn.

    VHS tapes were horrible things. The tracking, the static, and the overall fragility were just plain awful. But you know what? I loved them.

    If those things don’t drive the figurative stake through the heart of my inner child, it’s that kids, some not as young as you’d assume, were not alive or old enough to remember some of the more important and foundation-forming things from my youth. The feeling of going to Toys “R” Us and grabbing the yellow slip of paper that granted you access to the latest SEGA or Super Nintendo game is long gone as digital distribution places new games at the tips of the modern gamer’s blistered fingers.

    I can’t help but feel for the generations after mine. I was lucky enough to know how to work a turntable and the difference between a 45 and an LP, I had cassettes, I made mix tapes, I saw the advent of and rise of CDs and DVDs and can clearly remember the time before the Internet and cell phones. As nostalgic as those memories are, the thing that really gets me is that my kids will never rent VHS tapes from ShopRite.

    ShopRiteIt was a different time. Ren & Stimpy was considered a children’s cartoon, Michael Jackson was alive and well, the ‘90s were chugging along full steam, and most importantly, the original Lyndhurst, New Jersey ShopRite was alive and well. Whether it was summer, winter, raining, snowing or smack-dab in the middle of a heat wave, I happily volunteered to accompany my mom on her weekly grocery run. I wasn’t interested in the candy aisle or the aisle of misfit and off-brand toys. Maybe after a quick run to the magazine rack to check out the latest WWF magazine, I’d hit the good stuff: the VHS rental aisle.

    The gamut of emotions that ran through my sponge-like mind were inexplicable. Looking at the VHS art for movies like Naked Lunch and Evil Dead 2 scared the living shit out of me, while movies like Weekend at Bernie’s or The Brave Little Toaster excited and intrigued me. You see, if I was good and stayed out of trouble while Mom filled up the cart with Lunchables and French toast cereal, I got to pick one. Of course, it would be years until I could pick out the ones that would give me nightmares but regardless, it was my treat.

    You’d think I’d never been to a library before, or experienced what it was like to borrow something from a friend, given the amount of excitement I held for renting a movie. It was a family experience; we ate dinner, popped the tape in, made some popcorn, watched the coming attractions and basked in the glow of our living room set.

    To be honest, I can actually recall enjoying this living room ritual more than than seeing a film in theaters. I knew I only had access to this treasure for a couple of days, so it wasn’t unusual for me to watch the same movie multiple times before giving it back. When it came time to return the movie (after rewinding it, of course) we got to drop the movie in the slot outside of ShopRite. The entire ordeal was always so tactile and emotional from start to finish that, even when the movie sucked, I couldn’t help but look forward to the next time.

    Now let’s flash forward. Places like West Coast Video rolled in. Blockbuster came after. And mom-and-pop places were everywhere. I would be lying if I said my patronage was kept only at ShopRite when it came to rentals, but that was my place. Just as people have a deli or coffee shop that they haunt regularly, so I was as a kid with ShopRite. That’s an experience that modern generations will miss out on without even knowing it, and I can’t help but feel deeply saddened by it.

    Don’t get me wrong, digital subscriptions to services like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Go are awesome and have become part of my budget and life, but planting your cheeks on the couch and firing up your PS3 or Apple TV is not the same. More convenient? Sure. Kind of sad? Absolutely.

    As the years rolled on, West Coast Videos became restaurants, Blockbusters shuttered and the mom-and-pop places threw in the towel against our ever-evolving audio-sensory culture. The Internet won. I’ll be the first to say that, in retrospect, VHS tapes were horrible things. The tracking, the static, and the overall fragility were just plain awful. But you know what? I loved them.

    I loved looking at the art, I loved the way they felt, and I love the memories I have from all the ones I watched, owned, and rented over the years. Even now, as I’ve moved to a new town and frequent a different ShopRite for my own groceries, I can’t help but wonder where this foreign ShopRite had its rental section and how it was ultimately repurposed.

    So pour one out for your favorite VHS rental shop, and if you have a VCR collecting dust somewhere, connect those RCA cables and pop one of your favorites in. Just for old time’s sake.

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    Trade favorite VHS rental stories with Erik Weinbrecht on Twitter @Erock88.

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