“Be kind, rewind…”

Book recalls the early days of video rental

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This article was published 16/08/2021 (539 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Kids these days will never know the feeling of going up and down the aisles at the corner video store desperately looking for a VHS movie to watch on a Friday night but Kevin Doherty and Bill Hrenchuk sure do and they’ve chronicled that experience and more in a new book that will resonate with those who grew up in the video era.
The Good Ole Days of Video Rental  describes life at the onset of the video age, which began in the early 1980s. The duo spent three years interviewing customers, clerks, managers and owners about their memories and amusing experiences from those times.
The trip began when Hrenchuk created a Facebook group for former employees of Bill’s Video, one of the popular chains of the day. The stories flooded in and brought back the memories.
“I said to Bill that maybe we should put this in a book, there might be something here,” Doherty said.
The advent of home video was revolutionary. Up to then, you had to see the movie in the theatre, and if you were lucky and remembered the time, years later on television.
“When movies came out on videotape, you could have it in your house to yourself to watch – for free, without commercials,” Doherty said. 
“You could pause it, you could control it. It was like a god complex. The whole mind-blowing experience of being able to watch it whenever you wanted, however you wanted, for just a few bucks…”
Doherty, now 52, still remembers the day his father brought home the family’s first VHS player, along with copies of Jaws 2 and Popeye. It was a huge machine his dad had bought downtown for $1,800.
“We’d heard about them but we didn’t think we’d see them in our lifetime,” Doherty said of the machines. “When my dad said Jaws 2 was on there (pointing to a tape) it was hard to understand. And when he hit play I was blown away, my life was turned upside down.”
Along the way Hrenchuk, 50, and Doherty learned all sorts of information about Winnipeg’s role in the Canadian video industry.
Canada’s first video retnal store was opened here by Gilles Verrier in 1979, at a time when only 20 movies were available on video anywhere in the world. It was such a novelty that the Yellow Pages didn’t even have a category for it. 
That changed soon enough. Soon rental shops were on every street corner, in many major retailers. Even corner stores and 7-Elevens offered video rentals
“We didn’t know the video store was going to vanish,” Doherty said. “We thought it was going to be there forever.”
Doherty remembers writing a two-page letter as a teen to get his dream job at Star Time Foto Video and thinking he had hit the jackpot and never wanted to leave. Now he is an independent filmmaker, still pursuing his passion for the industry.
While we have so many more entertainment options than we did in the 1980s, there’s something missing.
“Netflix is great, it’s efficient and it’s cheap but you only get to watch what they’re offering,” Doherty said. “But when you were at a video store looking for a certain title and you didn’t see it, you weren’t leaving empty handed. You would grab whatever caught your eye. A lot of people saw a lot of movies they would never have otherwise.”
The Good Ole Days of Video Rental is available on Amazon and at Coles in Kildonan Place. Doherty and Hrenchuk hope to have copies available in other Winnipeg stores over the coming weeks.

Kids these days will never know the feeling of going up and down the aisles at the corner video store desperately looking for a VHS movie to watch on a Friday night but Kevin Doherty and Bill Hrenchuk sure do and they’ve chronicled that experience and more in a new book that will resonate with those who grew up in the video era.

The Good Ole Days of Video Rental describes life at the onset of the video age, which began in the early 1980s. The duo spent three years interviewing customers, clerks, managers and owners about their memories and amusing experiences from those times.

The Good Ole Days of Video Rental, by local authors Kevin Doherty and Bill Hrenchuk, recalls the early days of video stores in Winnipeg.

The trip began when Hrenchuk created a Facebook group for former employees of Bill’s Video, one of the popular chains of the day. The stories flooded in and brought back the memories.

“I said to Bill that maybe we should put this in a book, there might be something here,” Doherty said.

The advent of home video was revolutionary. Up to then, you had to see the movie in the theatre, and if you were lucky and remembered the time, years later on television.

“When movies came out on videotape, you could have it in your house to yourself to watch – for free, without commercials,” Doherty said. 

“You could pause it, you could control it. It was like a god complex. The whole mind-blowing experience of being able to watch it whenever you wanted, however you wanted, for just a few bucks…”

Doherty, now 52, still remembers the day his father brought home the family’s first VHS player, along with copies of Jaws 2 and Popeye. It was a huge machine his dad had bought downtown for $1,800.

“We’d heard about them but we didn’t think we’d see them in our lifetime,” Doherty said of the machines. “When my dad said Jaws 2 was on there (pointing to a tape) it was hard to understand. And when he hit play I was blown away, my life was turned upside down.”

Along the way Hrenchuk, 50, and Doherty learned all sorts of information about Winnipeg’s role in the Canadian video industry.

Canada’s first video retnal store was opened here by Gilles Verrier in 1979, at a time when only 20 movies were available on video anywhere in the world. It was such a novelty that the Yellow Pages didn’t even have a category for it. 

That changed soon enough. Soon rental shops were on every street corner, in many major retailers. Even corner stores and 7-Elevens offered video rentals

“We didn’t know the video store was going to vanish,” Doherty said. “We thought it was going to be there forever.”

Doherty remembers writing a two-page letter as a teen to get his dream job at Star Time Foto Video and thinking he had hit the jackpot and never wanted to leave. Now he is an independent filmmaker, still pursuing his passion for the industry.

While we have so many more entertainment options than we did in the 1980s, there’s something missing.

“Netflix is great, it’s efficient and it’s cheap but you only get to watch what they’re offering,” Doherty said. “But when you were at a video store looking for a certain title and you didn’t see it, you weren’t leaving empty handed. You would grab whatever caught your eye. A lot of people saw a lot of movies they would never have otherwise.”

The Good Ole Days of Video Rental is available on Amazon and at Coles in Kildonan Place. Doherty and Hrenchuk hope to have copies available in other Winnipeg stores over the coming weeks.

Tony Zerucha

Tony Zerucha
East Kildonan community correspondent

Tony Zerucha is a community correspondent for East Kildonan. Email him at tzerucha@gmail.com

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