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Winnipeg authors press rewind and look back at golden age of video rentals in new book

A pair of Winnipeg authors are dusting off their VCRs to look back at the video rental industry. Thomas J Peterson / Getty Images

Remember going down to the video store to rent a movie? While it might be an alien experience to many young people today, for a pair of local authors, it’s something worth waxing nostalgic about.

Bill Hrenchuk and Kevin Doherty, the authors of the new book The Good Ole Days of Video Rental, covered the history of the business, video store clerking 101, stories from customers, clerks and owners, and more from the golden era of video rentals.

And they come by a lot of their knowledge first-hand — both Hrenchuk and Doherty worked at a Bill’s Video location on Henderson Highway, but had years of experience in the rental biz before and after.

Doherty told 680 CJOB that working in a video store seemed like a perfect career when he was a teenager, and when a rental shop opened nearby, he went above and beyond to get hired.

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“I wrote this two-page suck-up letter to the hiring manager, and she actually called me that day and said, ‘How can I not hire somebody with this much fire and passion and ambition for movies?’ I was in heaven,” he said.

“It was one of those kind of jobs where you just thought, this is what I wanted to do with my life, I wanted to be surrounded by movies and film. At the time it was a dream come true.”

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The book — fittingly written by two Winnipeggers, as the city was home to Canada’s first video rental store in the late 1970s — is 216 pages of nostalgia for a bygone era, one that its authors say younger generations are missing out on.

“In the book, we talk about that experience — that massive rush on the weekend to get those movies,” said Hrenchuk.

“When we started talking about the (idea for the book) to other people, it was that experience that people were missing that really prompted us to do this book.

“The era is kind of gone by.”

Although he admits the age of streaming means movie-watching is not only more affordable but also more efficient and convenient than it was in the 1990s and earlier, Doherty said there’s a magical moment that an algorithm can never replace.

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“Finding across that obscure title — just coming across a movie on the shelf at the video store that you’ve never heard of before, and taking it home and finding it was a diamond in the rough.

“You don’t stumble across those rare titles the way you would just scanning the shelves for an hour at a video store. I think that’s lost, and I think you enjoyed the movie that much more because it’s an accomplishment — getting to the store and renting it and getting it home,” he said.

“The work that was involved emphasized the experience.”

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