International Independent Video Store Day, Post #2

October 6, 2013 | By

Since I published a post on my first video store experience at The Video Station at Skymark Plaza in North York, I stumbled upon some interesting related news.

Let’s start with the good stuff first.

There’s no indication as to whether these two stores were once affiliated with the original franchise, but there are two Video Stations worth mentioning because they boast their wares with a nice dose of industry pride.

The Video Station Superstore in Texas rents and sells DVDs and Blu-rays, and as their website says quite frankly, “We Have Movies Not at Those Other Places [like] Netflix [and] Redbox.”

In fact, that’s one reason people ultimately end up calling up video stores: they want to see a specific film – on a whim, for research, or related to something just seen or discussed – and it’s available nowhere else (or so it seems). If and when that caller shows up, they’re often surprised to find a functional establishment. Glad, pleased, but nevertheless surprised; often there’s a line akin to ‘I didn’t know there were any stores left.”

Part of this shock may be rooted in their personal experiences where rentals and purchases began in the suburbs, and with many indies being killed off by Blockbuster and Rogers in the 90s, followed by the two big chains shuttering their shops, the impression is home video on physical medium is dead. With people leaping towards Netflix to get their old movie (er, back catalogue title) fix, and perhaps an older generation distrusting online purchases, there’s a sense Everything Is Online; and with no motivation to visit (or trust) online retailers, physical media must certainly be pure landfill now.

For merchants, this of course represents an opportunity to remind and maybe re-educate and re-familiarize people that movies still exist on disc. The fact Warner Home Video is handling (and reissuing) many of Paramount’s deep catalogue titles previously OOP, the lowly disc – as DVD, DVD-R, Blu-ray – ain’t dead.


Moving on to video store #2.

The other Video Station in Boulder, Colorado has a great user-friendly website, and their recent move to a new location was profiled by local media. This news piece is worth a peek because it reflects what also exists in Toronto, but in multiples: local rental & sales shops not affiliated with any of those mega-chains that arrogantly sauntered into neighborhoods and often successfully executed their kill-the-indie procedures before taking over the spoils of retail war.

The biggest chain – the name starts with the latter after “A” –  scoped out neighborhoods, singled out a successful mom & pop shop, moved a few doors down, opened with low New Release rates, sucked up local customers, drove the indie out of business, and then jacked up rental rates to a captive client base. Evil, but it worked.

Between 1992 to roughly 1999, I serviced a handful of indie stores and indie-friendly franchises doing conversions & duplications of home videos, and I remember this tiny sliver of a Video 99 by O’Connor Road whose owners feared the end results of the big “B” moving into the neighborhood. Their customers were the apartments and suburban homes in the environs. The owners were in their 50s or 60s, and really, really nice people. I enjoyed visiting managers & owners and talking about their end of the business, because you build up nice relationships and get a different perspective of the retail world.

This sliver of a store survived for a while, but they eventually folded, probably due to a combination of losing their customer base to stores like Blockbuster (oops – I said the B-word), and / or just feeling it was time to move on to something else. In all honesty, I think most many mom & pop shops were little businesses run by owners who never intended to be in the video business for decades; it was something to do to keep a roof over the head. A straight gig.

Video 99 was a very successful chain which had franchises all over Ontario, and I’m happy to see the name still survives in some communities, like this Cambridge, Ontario, location.

I serviced several in North York and York, plus two Videophiles (the owners were really two of the nicest guys on the planet), and Revue Video on the Danforth (also owned by really, really nice guys). Each of these shops weres managed by good people, but many eventually moved on to other pursuits for an assortment of reasons not necessarily tied to the domination of the big chains. The industry did go though early shifts and upsets, but there were other factors.

One sold the smallest of its two stores to a couple (actually relatives or friends of another client) who ran it for a few more years. The larger store expanded their adult section, then bought into what became a con with a rental stock provider (the firm was soon involved with multiple lawsuits for  alleged fraud). The shop later folded, and one of the owners moved into the funeral business.

Another store in a large mall was sold to a relative who spoke virtually no English, and with a disinterested staff, the shop soon folded within months.

A real survivor saw its catalogue of rare European films constantly show up on specialty channels like Showcase and Bravo, and they eventually said enough – especially after moving down the street to a location with a slightly more reasonable rent on an increasingly trendy strip (which has since gotten more trendy and costly).

Another small shop had installed video games to make extra cast, and they stuck to top Hollywood & Disney rentals, with very few catalogue titles. Amazing they survived in such a tiny shop, unless they used to occupy more space in the early years. (It wasn’t unusual for shops to move or have their square footage halved to save rent.)

My favourite – and my first client – was a lovely lady from Korea with a background in graphic design. Her husband, who spoke a little English, was a Taekwondo master. Both took over a shop that (I think) began as a ‘Shop at Home Video Services’ before its rebirth as a Video 99. (There also used to be an electronics repair shop in the plaza, so I’m not sure if Video Services was part of their attempts to branch out, like every local Becker’s, 7-Eleven, and gas station.)

Given my dad didn’t buy the first VCR until 1983, I’ve no idea why I have this info sheet and catalogue. I can only assume we dropped in, and they gave us these sheets (unless we had actually bought the RCA Selectavision 650 in ’82).

Here’s what you could expect from their memberships, although this address appears to be a prior location at Finch & Victoria Plaza which used to house a large Videophile, and later Blockbuster:

Rental rates for Shop at Home Video Services.


Apparently at the age of 14 or 15 I researched extant video stores in and around North York and scribbled the names down on the sheet’s verso. (Video Fair in fact survived right up to the mid-1990s.) Interesting names for what existed, circa 1982-1983.


And here’s what was available for rental, circa May, 1982, at their new Van Horne Plaza location. Yes, I actually have this catalogue. No, it wasn’t a deliberate decision. These pages floated around in boxes unbeknownst to me (and that’s my story), and by reading these scans you hereby lose all right to criticize, nitpick, and tease:

Page 01 — VHS & Beta rental catalogue, Shop at Home Video Services, circa May, 1982.

Page 02 — VHS & Beta rental catalogue, Shop at Home Video Services, circa May, 1982. Note the amalgamation of Dunderklumpen, smut, slasher films, and CanCon classique Death Ship.

Page 03 — VHS & Beta rental catalogue, Shop at Home Video Services, circa May, 1982. Look – more smut, slashers, and titles never released on DVD.

Page 04 — VHS & Beta rental catalogue, Shop at Home Video Services, circa May, 1982.

Page 05 — VHS & Beta rental catalogue, Shop at Home Video Services, circa May, 1982. Pippi Longstocking was apparently the favourite of 'Little Girls' (and Bob Zwei).

Page 06 — VHS & Beta rental catalogue, Shop at Home Video Services, circa May, 1982. Look! More Pippi for the 'Little Girls" (and Bob Zwei)! Great….

Page 07 — VHS & Beta rental catalogue, Shop at Home Video Services, circa May, 1982. Did you spot the poor placement at the top of the page? It should read "Shout, The" but what's more interesting is how this Jerzy Skolimowski film did get a video release on tape, but remains unavailable on disc in North America (although is has popped up on TCM).

Page 08 — VHS & Beta rental catalogue, Shop at Home Video Services, circa May, 1982.


And then there’s this amusing final page regarding the shop’s location move to its pre-Video 99 rebirth, and a modest catalogue update:

Page 09 — VHS & Beta rental catalogue, Shop at Home Video Services, circa May, 1982.


Page 10 — VHS & Beta rental catalogue, Shop at Home Video Services, circa May, 1982.


Now let’s get back to Video 99, and my favourite clients.

The husband eventually got fit again, set up a martial arts class with graphic designs & snazzy logo by his wife, and for a while they managed the two businesses. The video store eventually folded partially because of the way the rental business had devolved in the area; and partially due to the inherently  high costs of seeing rental tapes costing $90-$110 a pop get destroyed by negligent customers.

Sell-though titles were those tapes that cost $30 or $10 and were targeted to you, the renter. Rental pricing applied to those titles you rented at the shop, and represented the actual cost the store had to pay to get those new Hollywood blockbuster titles.

Let’s say Gravity comes to VHS.

You, the store owner, pay $110 per copy to buy the tape with the right to rent it to the general public. You had a narrow window of maybe a week or two to get your money back if the tape was defective or destroyed by a customer. The longer you had the tape, your credit for a damaged tape slid to nada, so if someone trashed your tape into week 2 or 3, with your window gone, you lost the entire timeline to make back the tape cost + all future profit.

Other problem: people would deny damaging the tape (“I got it that way”). I remember a few owners pointing to full shelves of trashed tapes that represented maybe a $1000 of lost revenue for each.

Other unique dilemma: renters set up a membership, rented a crapload of tapes, and then disappeared with cancelled credit cards, ensuring you had no recourse. How? They rented the films the night or two before moving out the nearby building, taking with them your brand new rental titles. Your solution? There isn’t one.

Getting back to my first & favourite shop, the store closed because the lady was T-boned in a car accident, and the nightmares were so severe, running a store and dealing with customers proved too much. I wished her well, and still miss one of the nicest, friendliest people with whom I did almost daily business. That shop – a Video 99 – was eventually transformed into a top 50-ish rental place, which then folded, and became a coffee shop.

I don’t remember when The Video Station at Skymark folded, but I think the shop became an Asian restaurant that might still be there. A sliver of a top 50-ish rental shop opened afterwards, then folded really fast, and if I recall, the original retail space was divided into a dry cleaners and Blacks photo shop.

Which brings me now to Skymark; its likely new identity; and the not-so-great news: a  planned condoplex. Like, the mall will seemingly be razed for mostly upscale condos of very tall heights. It’s being billed as a mixed density place, but here’s the thing: the plaza which once housed a Loblaws soon after held a No Frills, which services the apartments, townhouses, houses, and students living close to and attending Seneca College. With the potential of affordable / cheap food (including fruits & vegetable) going or being out of commission for a long stretch, that leaves little alternatives for budget eating.

What may emerge in this plan are a cluster of homes with no nearby or easy to walk grocery store, which isn’t smart. The whole development may be an attempt to transform that corner into a kind of mini-Bayview Village, since there is a busy bus line going along Finch and Don Mills Roads and the 401 exits just down the road. The issue (besides lack of affordable food): the rental units will climb in price, and if its fully upscaled, you’ll see apartments packed with several tenants, and a higher demand for affordable housing to be met by basements apartments, which aren’t the ideal.

Do you know what likes to live in basements? Giant mutant house centepedes. Go ahead… click on the pic, you curious reader, you:

The term “fucking ugly” is an urbanized bastardization from the insect’s Latin name fucklingulus repulsivius maximums freakansimus.

Some comments at are very positive about the development, and I hope it’s ultimately done right, but given I used to live in the area, grew up and went to school in those environs, I hope it doesn’t become a mini-Bayview Village, because too much density may already smother a heavily trafficked area. In the early 90s, a drive to the McDonald’s at Finch & Victoria Park took 5-10 mins. between 4:30-5pm. By 1998, the congestion pushed the trip to almost a half hour.

You wish the best for your old haunts, right?

Before I sign off for a week until the next International Independent Video Store Day blog post – I’ve reviews, a podcast, a BlogTO, and this coming Thursday’s Giallo lecture to focus on – if you do remember any of these shops and have some insight, recollections, or anecdotes, do post them in the comments section. It’s just nice to have a packet of local history floating around in tandem with the existing businesses who’ve managed to adapt and work with their own successful business models.





Mark R. Hasan, Editor ( Main Site / Mobile Site )

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