With little access to VHS, I saw most films on TV. Sometimes I would stay up late to catch a film. There was no DVR or TiVo, of course, and we only had one VCR, which was connected to the 25” family television (aka my stepfather’s TV). Even if I’d been brave enough to touch the VCR and risk irking the iron-fisted owner of the machine and its corresponding TV, I still wouldn’t have been able to program the thing, which was not unlike HAL from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). When we finally got a VCR for my siblings and my movie-loving self, it was actually a VCP. The “P” stood for “player,” and the machine adamantly refused to record anything. Consequently, I would keep late hours with the hopes of seeing an obscure film. Normally, the TV networks would run horror films in the wee hours of the morning, which, not surprisingly, led to my fondness for the genre.
In 1990, we finally got a video store. The Bookery, operated and owned by a sweet, angelic lady named Jackie, began stocking videos to rent. The store had been around since 1980, selling used books (hence, the at-the-time appropriate name). Jackie expanded the business to movie rentals. At first, the selection was minimal, not much better than the gas station and the grocery store. But The Bookery quickly increased its inventory. Before long, I was riding my bike to the store and having to request a sack to carry six VHS tapes (my standard renting amount). Then I was taking a car, and if my brother had the car, I was convincing my mom, my sister or a friend to drive me over to The Bookery.
I never acknowledged my predilection for horror films until I became a regular customer at The Bookery. One day, Jackie made a comment that I always headed first to the horror section, which at the time was near the back of store, past the new releases (she eventually moved the horror films to just inside the front door, which I’d like to think was solely for my benefit). Jackie was right: as soon as I walked into the store, it was like a conveyor belt took me to my favorite genre. But even if I didn’t prefer horror movies, I still would have had a deep respect for Jackie’s horror selection. It’s where I first saw Bob Clark’s classic Black Christmas (1974), Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case (1982), Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) and Phenomena (1984, then with the U.S. title of Creepers), and even the hard-to-find The Carrier (1988). Jackie would have each film of a horror series, which, sadly, is not a common practice, as some outlets may have two or three films from a movie franchise consisting of at least seven sequels.
Jackie’s business was a family affair. It was not uncommon to see her mother, her daughter, or her granddaughter behind the counter. I remember once having a late fee on my account (which truly was a surprise, as I had a penchant for always returning movies on time, sometimes returning six 5-day rentals the very next day as an excuse to rent more videos). Jackie’s daughter told me about it, and I was willing to pay because I didn’t want to argue and destroy my Bookery rep. Jackie’s mother, however, refused to believe that I had returned a movie late, and she took the fee off my account, leaving me with a perfect record by the time The Bookery closed its doors. (Technically, my brother had already blemished my record years before, but Jackie kindly overlooked it, knowing who was responsible. Overlooked the blemish, as I had to pay for my brother’s VHS tardiness.)
Aside from my time away at college, I was a loyal customer of The Bookery for many years. In 2007, Jackie announced that she would be selling the business as soon as she found a buyer for her movies. Each of her videotapes and DVDs was for both rent and sale (I bought The Carrier) until another store offered to buy the remainder of her inventory. And then The Bookery was closed. Two years later, Jackie died, leaving a giant hole in my heart.
I miss Jackie and The Bookery dearly. I’ve been a member of a few online DVD rental sites, and while they offer a vast array of choices, it’s just not the same. I miss standing in front of a wall of DVDs and videotapes, scanning every single cover, even though I’d already seen them hundreds of times. I miss Jackie’s gray cat named Blue, who would wait patiently until someone opened the door, so that he could either leave or run back inside. I miss the creaky floors, the air conditioning vent near the new releases, the other cats who would sit on the counter while you were checking out, and Jackie letting me answer the phone when it got too busy. I miss horror films being held for me, even when I didn’t request them, and movie posters being set aside and which would eventually adorn my walls. Most of all, I miss Jackie’s smile that would shine brightly as I approached the counter, balancing a stack of VHS and/or DVD boxes. Her typical response: “That’s it?” I often took that as a criticism and would run back to grab three more films.
To many people, Jackie was the outgoing, considerate woman who you could usually find at the local video store. She preferred books, but she knew her business. You could ask her about almost any film, and she would know it, know if she carried it, and know if it was available. I once asked about Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond (1986), simply saying: “Do you have From Beyond?” With no hesitation, Jackie responded, “No, sorry.” Jackie was a little more to me than just a wonderful person and friend. She will forever remain a large part of my movie history. I’ve seen so many films and have forgotten quite a number of them, but Jackie is, simply put, unforgettable.