Geek-Story: The Yamin VHS Rental Store

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I grew up without a cell phone. I discovered what Internet was in College. The average time back then for a short online video to load was about thirty minutes. No, I’m not a typist Mummy. I’m a film junkie who had a moment that made me realize how different some things were just some years ago.

I was spending my usual Friday night on Netflix. Comedy>Down Arrow>Right Arrow>Right Arrow: and all of the sudden there it was: St. Elmo’s Fire. A “Play” icon let me know that I could watch it at the moment if I wished to do so.

I immediately went back in a flash to those “ancient” times I was telling you about before. I was the proud owner of a VHS Player. DVD had just come out as a format, was very expensive, and there were just a few titles available on it. My lack of a cell phone only meant back then that whenever I’d go to the video rental store I had to let people know in advance where I was going to be.

Yamin Family Center. Two stories high, whole block wide, illuminated by a giant marquee that made it look like an old movie theater. Bright, majestic and beautiful.

It was the place where I would spend countless hours wandering between shelves piled with VHS tapes; deciding if my Friday afternoon was looking like Comedy or Sci-Fi. They had films from over ten years ago back then (did I mentioned there was no Internet?), so it would give me the chance to watch lots of my (still) beloved 80’s films: Gremlins, Pet Sematary, The Gate, The Breakfast Club.

This last film was a revelation: it mixed teen angst with romance and humor. So when I found out there was another film with part of that cast I was on a mission: I needed to find this promise of bliss by the name of “St. Elmo’s Fire”.

I wanted it, I needed it, so I ran to the counter. The store clerk, with his permanent numb tone just said: “Someone rented it and never returned it”. “NEVER RETURNED IT”…the words echoed inside my head, but inside I knew it wasn’t over. I needed to watch Judd Nelson being a though kid one more time…

I came back asking for it week after week, until the clerk would just wave his head “No” to me once he saw me at the door. I tried other rental stores, but Yamin was the only one big enough to carry such an old film. I was doomed.

Years passed, cell phones where no longer attached to huge briefcases and DVD grew massively. At Yamin they  had to take down half the VHS inventory to make room for the new format’s titles available. At some point the entire store was only brand new films in this oh-so-shiny-slim-boxes, no sight of any of my old school vintage films. Good bye endeared objects of escapist nostalgia.

A couple of years later, I drove to the store one day (now I had a DVD) just to find a heartbreaking sight: it had closed down for good. It looked absolutely deserted inside through the huge floor to ceiling windows: no shelves, no movies, no one, nothing. I delivered the sad news to my friends through my incredibly heavy cell phone. Even then that store was too big to compete with the new “online piracy”. The upcoming years proved that Internet indeed would change the film industry forever.

I still go to the video rental store (old habits die hard), even though I also watch movies online on a rainy day or late at night. Today when I bumped into “St. Elmo’s Fire” I found it almost sarcastic and nostalgic at the same time. The red button above it only reads Play. Play Now. Not in a few years, days, hours. Now.

I know for some that doesn’t mean much, but to me that “Now” took more than twenty years to happen. I wish I could tell that to the girl hearing some bad news about a film she wanted to watch so badly some years ago. I’d love to say to her she’d be seeing that film just out of nostalgia. On her cell phone.