Video Library (1981-2007)

Screenshot 1-2If you live in Jackson, Mississippi, you’ve probably rented at least one movie from Video Library — one of the largest video stores in the southeast, and Jackson’s last independently-owned video store. For more than twenty-five years, my partner, Clyde, has beaten the odds, keeping the store open (despite Blockbuster’s dedicated efforts to crush all competition).

This weekend, Video Library closed its doors forever.

This post is a look at what Video Library has meant for us over the years … why it closed … and what closing the store means for Clyde and for me.

Screenshot 1-2If you live in Jackson, Mississippi, you’ve probably rented at least one movie from Video Library — one of the largest video stores in the southeast, and Jackson’s last independently-owned video store. For more than twenty-five years, my partner, Clyde, has beaten the odds, keeping the store open (despite Blockbuster’s dedicated efforts to crush all competition).

This weekend, Video Library closed its doors forever.

This post is a look at what Video Library has meant for us over the years … why it closed … and what closing the store means for Clyde and for me.

The Early Years

Long before I came to Jackson for the first time, Video Library was a Jackson institution: the place to go to get video.

While still in college, Clyde began working for Video Library; right after graduation, he would buy the business from its original owner and make the shop his own. In a very short time, the store would outgrow its original location — quickly torn down to make way for a bank — and would move to a huge, 6,000-square-foot space on one corner of Deville Plaza.

In those early days, when most video rental stores were gloomy Mom and Pop shops operating out of converted gas stations, Video Library fairly thrummed with energy. Beneath bright banks of lights, the store’s aisles featured thousands of movies in multiple formats: tiny Beta tapes, bulky VHS tapes, and even those odd, record album-sized laser discs.

In the back of the shop, a kid’s play area kept tiny tots busy while Mom and Dad browsed the inventory. Near the front of the store, shoppers pawed through bins of movie-themed stuffed animals, books, and knickknacks. At the front counter, in addition to their rentals, customers bought movie candy and freshly-popped popcorn.

Instead of clueless minimum-wage slackers, Video Library employees were smart, movie-savvy people who could find “that movie where that guy from the Ten Commandments is the only person on earth who isn’t a zombie” in a flash. As a result, especially on the weekends, Video Library was the place to be — and receipts showed it. For years, the company was the model of a retail success. As Clyde puts it, “There was a stretch where we made money hand over fist.”

Attack of the 50-Foot Video Chain

Eventually, Blockbuster — the Evil Empire, hell-bent on stamping out all independent video stores — came to Jackson, MS. When they did, they lusted after Clyde’s bright, sleek store and excellent location … and soon, they called him in for a meeting.

The Blockbuster reps didn’t mince words. “We’ll buy out your store for one-fourth of its value … or you can wait a few weeks, and we’ll shut you down.”

Clyde blinked. “Actually, I think I’ve got other options.” And Clyde did — because Clyde made them. Blockbuster didn’t carry independent art films, so Video Library did. Blockbuster didn’t carry foreign and subtitled films, so Video Library did. Blockbuster wouldn’t carry gay- or lesbian-themed movies, so Video Library did. Blockbuster employees were faceless minimum-wage drones who had been flipping burgers the week before; Video Library employees loved their jobs and stuck with the company for years.

As a result, Blockbuster — despite its size, power, and underhanded business practices — didn’t shut Video Library down. Meanwhile, business just kept on growing.

Mark Meets a Husband

When I first moved to Jackson, it took me about a week to find Video Library. As an avid movie renter — back then, I watched about eight movies a week — I was in heaven. As someone just beginning to come to terms with his own sexuality, I was so grateful for the independent film section, where I could rent gay-themed movies (not p0rn, mind you, but amazing movies like Maurice and Long Time Companion) that would never play in Jackson, MS.

It also didn’t take me long to notice the skinny, pale, dark-haired young man behind the counter — an employee who always seemed to be there. He was all-business and always in a hurry, but in those rare moments when he would smile, he was painfully handsome. Was he gay? Was he available? I didn’t know.

One afternoon, emboldened by a steady diet of great gay cinema, I approached the front counter, fully intending to ask him if he would like to go on a date. At the last moment, though, I chickened out … and, instead, I just asked for a job application.

A week later, I’d leave Jackson for a job with a church-affiliated college. As a result, that first, short conversation with Clyde — the guy I almost asked out — would be our last for two more years.

The Golden Age

Two years later — older and wiser and through with life in the closet — I met Clyde for the second time (at a church, of all places). This time, I did ask him out … and we’ve been a couple ever since.

At this point — almost fifteen years ago — Video Library was in the final years of her Golden Age. Business was still booming, but Blockbuster had slaughtered all but the strongest independent video stores. There wasn’t an Internet yet, but cable companies were talking loudly about video-on-demand (a full decade before they would actually offer it!). Customers started asking Clyde if stories in the paper — stories that said all video stores would be a thing of the past “within a year” — were true.

Meanwhile, I was swept up in the remarkable adventure of having a boyfriend who owned a video store (and a theatre, too, but that’s another story). We watched a lot of movies back then … and we also went, once a year, to a huge video industry show called VSDA (the Video Software Dealer’s Association).

This was back when video stores were the darling of the movie industry. The movie studios threw huge bashes for us in Vegas and Hollywood. Companies like Rentrak threw “chocolate parties.” Characters like Barney — yes, the purple dinosaur — hosted cocktail parties (!?!) for video store owners. Disney rented out a local zoo and transformed it into the city of Agraba, where thirty of Hollywood’s best restaurants served free food and Robin Williams performed for the crowd.

Signs of the Times

Those were amazing years … but already, the tide was turning. Each year — mostly thanks to the fact that Blockbuster had all but assumed control of VDSA — the budget for parties and shows grew smaller. Too late, the independent stores realized that their association had been hijacked by a corporate monster with an agenda of its own … and soon, VSDA was little more than a standard trade show in one corner of the Vegas Convention Center. We stopped going.

In 1999, an opportunity to sell the store to one of the smaller chains arose. With the deal all but inked, Clyde and I moved to Atlanta; sadly, the deal fell through. Clyde did his best to manage the store from afar, but, without him there to keep an eye on day-to-day operations, performance sagged. In 2002, we moved back, and once again, working at Video Library became part of Clyde’s daily routine.

The ‘Internet People’

Mostly thanks to Clyde’s business genius, Video Library re-invented itself again and again, always staying one step ahead of Blockbuster. When technologies like Netflix and video-on-demand (finally) began eating into local video rentals, Clyde signed a third-party contract allowing Video Library to offer Netflix-style rentals to online customers around the country. Soon, our internet customers were renting more movies per week than our top fifty local customers combined.

Some long-term employees, conditioned by years of waiting on walk-in customers, couldn’t deal with the change. One complained, “With all those Internet people renting movies, there won’t be anything on the shelves for our local customers!” She could never quite wrap her head around the fact that, with local people renting less and less, those ‘Internet people’ she despised were the only ones making her paychecks possible.

The Short-Lived New Store

As more and more business shifted to the Internet — and with ninety-five percent of all local rentals coming exclusively from our wall of newly-released DVDs — paying rent and utilities on a 6,000 square foot retail space no longer made good business sense. Clyde looked at the numbers and came up with two options: close the store … or reinvent it by tossing out all VHS, storing old DVDs in filing cabinets behind the counter, and moving to a 900 square foot space in the same shopping center.

Because we’ve been longing to return to Atlanta for years, Clyde leaned toward closing the store … but his business partner strongly favored keeping Video Library open. Unfortunately, right after leases were signed — and right before the new store opened — Clyde’s business partner revealed he’d been planning all along to move away and return to college. He assured us he would remain involved in the store — handling scheduling, returning to town every weekend to work on Saturday and Sunday. After he moved, he never set foot in Video Library again. There were no calls or emails; after more than twenty years in business with Video Library, he simply abandoned the store. Clyde was stunned.

Meanwhile, local customers just didn’t “get” the new Video Library. No one was renting VHS tapes anymore, but when we eliminated them, customers perceived this as “Video Library no longer has all those movies.” Despite signs directing people to the new store, long-time customers concluded, “Video Library just closed.” Though all floor space was dedicated to new releases (ninety-five percent of all rentals, remember, are new releases), thousands of older DVDs could still be requested at the counter or rented from shiny new “Quick Pick” terminals … but, frankly, customers were scared of the computers and wouldn’t use them.

The Last Act

Clyde did what he could — compressing schedules and tinkering with store hours — but, in the end, the handwriting was on the wall. While his two online businesses were booming, the bricks-and-mortar store was faltering. Paying steep overhead to keep that local store open just didn’t make sense … and so, though it hurt him deeply to do it, Clyde made the decision to do “what should have been done before” — and close Video Library.

The last day the lights were on — as our last and most faithful employees were stripping the shelves and boxing up inventory — an older woman wandered into the store. “Oh, at last!” she said, clapping her hands with glee. “A video store in our very own neighborhood! This is wonderful! When will you people be open?”

* * * * *

Moving On

Today, for the first day in a quarter-century, Clyde doesn’t have to work with Video Library. He will, however, spend a big chunk of the day working with his two online business: one still fulfilling video rentals for Internet customers across the country, while the other sells out-of-print and hard-to-find DVDs and videos through Amazon.com.

He’s always had a genius for building businesses — how many other people can claim to have outfoxed Blockbuster in a small local market for twenty-five years? — and now, he’s free to apply that genius to businesses that belong exclusively to him. He’s reconfiguring them so they demand less time and take less intensive effort to maintain. Overhead is ridiculously low. There are no more customer service or employee issues to eat up the day. Frankly? He’s better poised for success than ever.

Here at Home

And me? Well, over the last five years, Clyde took on the role of primary bread-winner, giving me the opportunity to pursue my dream of writing full-time. Honestly, though? I’m ready to go back to work. And, as Clyde continues configuring and tinkering with his online businesses, I really want to give him the sort of support he’s given me these past few years: the freedom to experiment without having to bear the primary responsibility for bringing in our family’s regular income.

Meantime, stepping back into a full-time job will delight me. I can make the most of my hard-earned credentials, deploy old talents and skills against new challenges, and collect lots of story fodder for those nights and weekends I’m dedicating to writing that next best-seller. I’ve got interviews scheduled in the weeks to come, one of which, with God’s help, will prove to be the key to an exciting new phase of our life together.

Returning to the Real City of Dreams

And finally, since Clyde’s new businesses can be operated from anywhere on Earth with Internet access, we once again have the freedom to live where we choose. One way or another, by the end of this year — and possibly much sooner, depending on how my job interviews go — we’ll be moving to Atlanta (the city we love), attending Saint Mark (the church we love), and living in Midtown (the neighborhood we love, near friends we love) in our “dee-luxe apartment in the sky-yi-yi.”

We’ll still have easy access to Clyde’s family. We’ll be even closer to my genetic family — in fact, for the first time in my adult life, I’ll have blood relatives living minutes away. And when dear friends from Jackson and Minneapolis come to visit, the ice cream (from Muriel and Sebastian’s small-batch parlor), the chocolate (from Lexington Chocolates), the great Thai food (from Little Bangkok and Jitlada) and the rich desserts (from Cafe Intermezzo) will flow non-stop for the duration of the visit.

Turning the Page

And so … one and well-loved chapter of our life closes … and an exciting new one begins.

Here’s to the future … and here’s hoping that our willingness to reinvent ourselves and pursue our dreams will encourage you to do the same.

Mark McElroy

I'm a husband, mystic, writer, media producer, creative director, tinkerer, blogger, reader, gadget lover, and pizza fiend.

18 comments

  • As a former employee of Video Library who worked during those wonderful “golden years” it is with slight sadness but mostly pride that I say goodbye. Some of my best and most precious friendships are made of former employees of Video Library. There were so many great parts of working at Video Library but to be honest the best was there was a bit of celebrity in working at the Deville Video Library…I still to this day get recognized from time to time for my days as a Video Library employee. I will carry tons of stories, many friendships, and one of my strongest business lessons I have learned was from working at Video Library…this business practice in my opinion was one of the reasons (as Mark says is his post) for our success over the titans like Blockbuster…I was told it my first day of employment with VidLib…to paraphrase the Video Library Employee Handbook, “…we don’t pay our employees minimum wages, because we expect more than minimum wage performances from our employees…” and they did…and it worked! Best of luck to you and Clyde in the next chapter of your lives, and please tell Clyde I said thanks for letting me be a part of a Jackson institution!

  • As a former employee of Video Library who worked during those wonderful “golden years” it is with slight sadness but mostly pride that I say goodbye. Some of my best and most precious friendships are made of former employees of Video Library. There were so many great parts of working at Video Library but to be honest the best was there was a bit of celebrity in working at the Deville Video Library…I still to this day get recognized from time to time for my days as a Video Library employee. I will carry tons of stories, many friendships, and one of my strongest business lessons I have learned was from working at Video Library…this business practice in my opinion was one of the reasons (as Mark says is his post) for our success over the titans like Blockbuster…I was told it my first day of employment with VidLib…to paraphrase the Video Library Employee Handbook, “…we don’t pay our employees minimum wages, because we expect more than minimum wage performances from our employees…” and they did…and it worked! Best of luck to you and Clyde in the next chapter of your lives, and please tell Clyde I said thanks for letting me be a part of a Jackson institution!

  • Great summary! And great testimony to Clyde’s business acumen!! So glad you’ll be moving back to Atlanta. I’ve missed you both!!

  • It’s been forever since I’ve checked in on your site. And now I see this news.

    WOW!

    Well, on the one hand, as a Romantic, I am devastated. Jackson is no longer where I live, but it has changed so much that it is getting harder and harder for me to call it a home to which I could return and recognize it as the city of my birth and youth. It’s sad to see such a great Jackson institution go away.

    I’m also sad that I never got the chance to meet and get to know you guys the times we were all in Jackson together. And it looks as you two will be in Atlanta before the next time I can visit. But if you guys ever come up to Toronto again, I’d love to meet you. Maybe by that time, I can be hospitable. As a bachelor without much of a pad, such is not the case now.

    But it sounds like a whole new life (well, not without familiar faces) is waiting for you in Atlanta. I’m sure you’ll have a lot more fun there, and it’s so great that you guys have SO MUCH figured out personally and professionally – most people NEVER develop themselves and get to know themselves and their spouses as well as you guys do. You now have the freedom to switch spousal roles around and just play play play with it all. There’s zero doubt in my mind that the sky will be your limit in Atlanta.

    Well, PLEASE keep the blog going and best-of-luck to you in Atlanta!!!

    Ex-Jacksonian Milo/Will

  • Wow, this is really heartbreaking. I moved to Jackson about 7 years ago when I started school at Millsaps. I was a regular at vid lib, and had lots of friends who worked there over the years. I hit the real world and started working 7 days a week, which has kept me from the store for a while, but I just got the urge to see if they stock a particular docu that I’ve been looking for. Needless to say, I found this post and my heart sank immediately.

    Video Library has been one of my favorite things about living in Jackson since I first moved here, and it’s really a tragedy to see them gone. Just like so many other good things that pop up over here, though, it seems that it just couldn’t make it in this town. I’ll be leaving soon, too, and I can’t say I’ll be too sad to go the way of so many other great (and fleeting) aspects of this community. That said, I think it’ll be a while before I have the heart to remove the old, broken Vid Lib swipe card from my keychain 🙁

    Best of luck to you guys.

  • I lived in Jackson from 95-99, attending Millsaps College. My friends and I would go to Video Library almost every Friday night to search through the movies, laugh at old stuff, and finally take home a video. The feeling in the store was always electric on those Friday nights, and I’ll never quite forget it.

    Fast forward to 2005: I was living in New Orleans when the hurricane hit. My girlfriend and I moved to Jackson, and one day I took her to Video Library. We had a great time looking through all the old VHS; we rented old cartoons and movies never to be released on DVD. Eventually we moved back to New Orleans…

    Today I came to Mississippi to visit, and when driving on 55, noticed the Video Library sign was missing. I decided to investigate and came across your wonderful article. So many times, a place of magic like Video Library closes without being properly remembered, but you have captured the very essence of VL in your story.

    Thank you VL for bringing a smile to my face every time I entered the store. Much luck to you guys in the future.

  • Great article! I came across this because of a discussion with a co-worker. I originally thought video-library became Block Buster. That is because the video library in Oceanside, CA that I frequented in 1983 became a Block buster store. They must have sold their store to Block Buster.

  • As another former employee, I am very saddened to see that Video Library is no more. Good luck with all of your future endeavors Clyde.

  • Mark…what a great wrap-up. I am happy to have been one of those smart, movie-savvy employees that you mention in your post. I cannot believe it’s been 12 years since I moved away from Jxn and Video Library…I still miss Clyde and Mike and think about them often. When I moved to the Dallas area, I had to become a Blockbuster customer and it was the oddest feeling…not just to be in “enemy” territory, but to actually have to PAY for my movies…after nearly eight years of free rentals. A testament to how wonderful the Video Library staff was: In my first year away from Jxn, I called the store a couple of times to ask for help figuring out some forgotten movie title. I remember one instance when I was sitting in a restaurant with friends. We were talking about a movie that no one could name. I told them to hold on a second, called Video Library (half expecting to hear my voice on the answering machine) but it wasn’t quite closing time, so I reached a live person and got the answer I needed. My dining companions were quite impressed! I think my last visit to the store was shortly after my now seven-year-old son was born. Please tell Clyde, and Mike if you’re in touch with him, that I said hello.

  • This is great! I used to work at Video Library! My friend Georgia and I were JUST reminiscing about our high school days and working at Video Library. We had a blast working there. Thus, prompted me to start Googling and I found your post. I remember a marketing campaign that VL started to waive off the evil Blockbuster. If I remember correctly Clyde had cups made that said “Don’t Be a Blockhead!” on them. 🙂

  • I am SO glad Blake found this and shared it with me! I am also a former employee and I had the most amazing time working at Vid Lib, it was my first job and i will NEVER forget that place. Like Lesly i had to call VL for a name that stumped me and a friend: we couldnt remember Pee Wee’s nemesis in the big adventure. I simply called VL and they had the answer within 2 minutes! I was NOT a fan of cleaning out that popcorn machine but man, getting those screeners before the movie ever came out? come on! what else could one person ask for? I loved going down to Deville Cinema for Rocky Horror Picture show all decked out with the crew from VL.Oh, i have SO many memories. Thanks for putting this story up, Mark. Hope all is well with ya’ll and good luck in Atlanta!

    Vid Lib employee 95-98

  • I am also a former employee of Video Library. It was the best job I have ever had. I made so many good friends there. There have been several past employees who met while working there and eventually married. I will never forget that place.

  • Clyde and I had a fun time this morning reading these comments from past employees. Clyde’s proud that Video Library is so much a part of so many people’s fond memories!

    Every now and then, a special place comes into being, and it tends to attract very special people. Here’s a big thank you for everything each of you did to make Video Library such a great place to be.

  • I am so sorry to hear that Video Library closed. I worked for the local cable company in Jackson, and would visit VL when I wanted a movie right then!!! I could swear I still see the sign up @ Devielle. VL was a great place to go. The employees were always so helpful and nice. I really enjoyed going in to the store! I agree, Blockbuster is not my favorite place to go, so I just don’t!!! Good luck to you & Clyde and enjoy life! Also, thanks for VL being the great video store it was!Jacki

  • I just wanted to say thank you. As a gay man growing up in the Jackson area I was confused horribly about my sexuality. I feel I discovered your store late in the game, about 2 years before business slowed down. The selection of gay movies at video library baffled me. I never understood why a video store in the heart of the south had so many of them.

    I would often go in and take advantage of the multiple dvd deals. I would sneak a gay movie in with several other movies I could care less about. It gave me the opportunity to SEE other people who felt, thought, and acted the same way I did. I would go home and watch them in the safety of my bedroom.

    I know who I am now and I appreciate the your store for the opportunity you provided.

  • I just found this and I am a former employee.I worked there from 2003 to 2005.. in my high school days and i LOVED it.. it was my favorite job! For those two years i did nothing but work at that store and hang out with the ones who were off when I didnt have to work. haha I made so many friends at that store. I miss it soo much. I was proud to work at store that offered so much more than corporate American video stores. Every time I pass where the store used to stand I get sad. I miss everyone I ever worked with. Video Library was my family. I got other small things because of that store.. I baby sat for families that would come in.. making alittle extra money here and there. It was the best job for a 16/17 year old girl.

  • Hi,
    I was just browsing around Google trying to find any information that I could about Video Library. I grew up in town and went there EVERY Friday. I'm pretty sure everyone knew me there. I was probably the only 10 year old renting John Waters, Wes Craven, Dario Argento and other assorted trash pics. I give the store credit for making me the creative person I am today, currently an actor/screenwriter/director. I also remember Deville Cinema quite well. I saw Disney's Aladdin and Snow White there when I was a youngster. I wish I could find some pictures of that place in it's glory days. I remember the screen and the lobby being HUUUUGE!

    I just want to say a big "Thank You!" Video Library was my childhood, my adolescence, and my adulthood. I don't think any place has had such a huge impact on who I am today. It sounds cheesy, but it's so true. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • Video Library was THE BEST! Whatever obscure movie I was looking for, Video Library always had. My fav employee, John D. always knew exactly what I liked and was always ready to suggest other movies he thought I would enjoy. I was never at a loss when coming in for a great film. My daughter Dana worked for Cinema Deville as well as Video Library as her first jobs. I miss the experience of coming into a store where I was greeted by name(I think I still have my VL keyring member thingie around here somewhere,,lol)engaging in conversations about directors, producers, great discussions about different films attributes. Sighs,,,,,,,,,,the good ole days,,,fond memories. Good luck to you and Clyde in all your endeavors~

Who Wrote This?

Mark McElroy

I'm a husband, mystic, writer, media producer, creative director, tinkerer, blogger, reader, gadget lover, and pizza fiend.

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