Friday, April 06, 2007

Premiere Video: Behind the Curtain

Some time ago, I wrote about the most memorable question a customer ever asked me when I worked as a video store clerk ("Do you have any empty movies?"). Now let me take you even deeper into the first job I obtained upon moving to Rochester a decade ago.

It was the holiday season of 1996. The last job I had had in Winona was as a cashier at Radio Shack. Me and Dori stopped at a video store called Premiere Video one weekend that December (they're located on the south side of town).

I noticed that they were hiring. I thought about it for a moment. Being a video store clerk didn't seem to be too bad for a first job in a new city. I filled out the application and returned it a few days later. I received a call back that the openings were for a new store that was opening on the north side of town near Silver Lake. I had an interview with the north store's manager, Tony Do'hs (he had been the assistant manager of Premiere's LaCrosse store and accepted an offer to be manager of his own store in the MedCity). He was a nice guy. I was hired a few days later and looked forward to starting.

The store had just opened within the past week. Not too many people in town knew that they were even there yet. A grand opening would be held in a few weeks. Now this was just before DVD got going, so the store consisted entirely of VHS tapes. The hot game console at the time was the Nintendo 64. Tony told me that employees have a favorites section where they can display 4 of their favorite movies. Some of the movies I put in that section over the next year included, "Dead Poets Society", Jeff Bridges in "Fearless", Keanu in "Little Buddha" and Raymond Moody's "Life After Life".

The store had several TV's that were placed close to the ceiling.

We were told that we could play any G, PG, or PG-13 rated movies that we wanted as long as the language wasn't too severe (PG-13's were eventually taken off the list of acceptable movies to view during store hours) . Some of the movies I liked to play in the store included "Beavis and Butthead Do America", "Space Jam", "Batman & Robin", and "The Truman Show". On Friday night and Saturdays, however, we were required to play video screeners (they showed previews of movies that had just come out).

The weekends were the most fun time to work there. Lots of people, lots of conversation. There would be a snowstorm or pouring rain and we'd watch people come in shivering or soaked. We had a special deal with older movies where you could get 5 movies for 5 days for 5 dollars. That was quite popular. We also had a few dozen soft-core porn movies (Playboy videos, Red Shoe Diaries, etc.) in stock. This section was called "Late Night" :P Tony said these videos were among the most profitable in the store. I recall one older guy who, one morning, got 5 "Late Night" videos for $5 and returned them all less than 2 hours later. I was like, "Damn..."

There was always high demand for the newest releases. People would call in to hold copies of them. One Friday, a guy called in to reserve a title. He gave his name. I said it would be waiting for him. Hours went by and he still hadn't come. We close at midnight. It was after 11. Some girls came in and asked if we had the title. I decided to let them have it. They were quite excited to get it. That guy wasn't coming, anyhow. What do you know, a half hour later, he comes in asking about it. I looked in all our drawers for it knowing that it was already gone. I apologized to the guy. Of course, I didn't tell him that I had rented it out earlier, only that it was gone. I learned my lesson, though.

After several months, Tony asked if I wanted to open the store on some days. I said that would be cool. So I was given a key and usually arrived at the store at about 8:20am (we opened at 9, at least an hour before the other video stores). I would count out the moolah in the safe and get my register ready. Then I would scan in the movies that had been put in the drop box overnight. As magic time approached, I turned the lights and TV on. I had a ritual where I watched the same video almost every time that I opened the store. It was a one-hour vid ("Beyond the Mind's Eye") made up entirely of computer generated images and "futuristic" music. Here are some screen shots of it:

I ended up buying it on video a few years later at a pawn shop. Now I can relive those glorious days any time I want (I also took a couple screeners home with me that were gonna be thrown out anyway).

Since I was gonna be on my feet all day and since there weren't too many people that came into the store between 9 and 10, I would typically spend this time sitting down in the middle of the store and looking up at the images on the telly. Once more customers started coming in, I would stay in the front at my assigned post.

At lunchtime, I would print out a list of the people who had videos out that were more than 3 days late. I would then start calling these people. Most weren't home, so I left messages. I wasn't above trying to embarass a few people from time to time. If a guy had a bunch of "Late Night" movies that were really late, instead of saying on the machine, that he had "3 movies that were more than 10 days late", I would say, "Hi. This is Premiere Video calling. You have 3 movies that are each 12 days late. They are "Playboy: College Co-eds", "Naked Sins 3", and "Anal Invaders". Later, I would usually heat up a Healthy Choice pizza in the microwave in back and then eat it when there weren't many customers in the store. On most days, I would drink a Fruitopia (the brand is no longer in existence).

I ended up leaving Premiere in late 1997 (mostly because I just wasn't getting enough hours).

However, I did return in early '99 when a job I had working with the developmentally disabled fell through. My second stint at Premiere lasted about six months.

In 2003, I was working at Mayo and being a video store clerk seemed like a long time ago. I saw in the paper that the north store was going out of business. It was the passing of an age. So, a few days later, I went there one last time and browsed. I had just gotten a DVD player and took a look at what they had in that format. I didn't find anything that excited me, so spent my last few minutes taking a good look at the store, remembering the fun I had had there, the chance I was given by Tony all those years ago. Video stores are gradually fading away, but I'll always treasure those days when it was the place to be.


Skittles said...

This was a really good post! A flashback to when video stores were THE place to go. Now there's Netflix and pay per view..

My daughter-in-law used to work at one. It was the same rule about what ratings could be shown on the TVs. I had all my kids Watch the movie Billy Jack and it became a big favorite of theirs. Well, DIL decides to show it at work. She apparently had forgotten about the rape scene. (Which was implied more than shown.)

Mags said...

I can picture you sitting on the floor indian style watching the movies and then just all of a sudden popping your head up from an isle as someone walked it.


the108 said...

This is a great post and it takes me back in time to when I worked at Hollywood video. I love your phone messages... ha ha ha. Anal Invaders... hee hee.

Rocketstar said...

Anal invaders, nice. I never really understood the desire of the dirty place, other than the restriction.

Was that out loud?

~*SilverNeurotic*~ said...

Happy Easter!

Thomas said...

Rock, I don't get it, either (understand it, that is).

Happy Easter to you, too, Sil! Same for Skittles, Mags, 108, 109, Rock, and yes, even Brian.

Now I'm off to "Grindhouse"...

Fallen Star said...

"Playboy: College Co-eds", "Naked Sins 3", and "Anal Invaders"

Your life experiences make for good stories. I was able to imagine the guy's mother-in-law listening to the message.

Let me know what you think about Grindhouse.