Friday, September 17, 2010

The Bookery: A Place for... Movies?

When I was young, renting a video was a rare experience. My small city didn’t actually have a video store. All it had was a gas station that carried a few VHS tapes (you could get gas there, too, but we never filled up at that station, so it’s never been officially confirmed). It was in walking distance from my house, but my stepfather had to okay each rental, for financial reasons and presumably moral reasons as well. So most of the movies I watched on VHS were of the family variety or sometimes whatever my sister, the oldest of three children, wanted to see. Years later, a grocery store began carrying videotapes available for rental, and by then, I could rent whatever I chose so long as I didn’t develop bad habits (e.g., expressing an interest in butcher knives after watching John Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween). I had a bike, and I could have ridden to the VHS-armed grocery store, but it was safer to go the back way than ride on the sidewalk and/or street. The back way was a set of railroad tracks, but trains made few appearances (and nowadays none at all), and when they did, they were slow and easy to avoid.

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, th
en 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.


  1. I had a similar experience. I was older though. In the early days of VHS, I got my movies from a laundromat/video store. I always headed for the horror section. I rented "Mausoleum" so many times that they finally just gave it to me.

  2. Sark, I loved your heartfelt, humorous, and
    nostalgic memories of Jackie & The Bookery. I completely agree that, although web video outlets offer a greater selection, the intimacy of the video store has been lost. There was a unique joy to discovering a rare video while browsing at a video store. And there was a delightful anticipation to reserving a hard-to-get title and getting the phone call that it's yours (well, for two days). Two of my favorite video stores were David G's in Dayton, OH and Lew's Videos in Elizabethtown, KY. David G's housed its horror collection in a large fake cave with red lights and offered a wonderful collection of Hammer films (several of which I had never seen before). Lew's Video grew out Lew's Bakery. Lew made breads, cookies, cakes, and petite-fours (my fave) and starting stocking a few videos on the side. As his collection grew, he phased out the baked goods and the store became Lew's Videos. Alas, when the big chains killed off most of the "Mom and Pop" video stores, Lew sold all his movies and became a full-time bakery (for a couple years before retiring). I liked Lew, but he surely lacked Jackie's knowledge about movies and, judging from your description of The Bookey, Lew's place wasn't in the same class. I always enjoy your articles, but perhaps none more so than this one.

  3. quizshowbob, Jackie actually sold all of her books before the movies, and she opened a laundromat right next to The Bookery! So it wasn't quite a laundromat/video store, but for a couple of years, it was thought of as such because everyone knew Jackie owned both of them.

    Rick, thanks for your kind words. I've always loved that moment when, after scanning video covers for what seemed liked hours, I'd do a double take and see a movie that's been on my must-see list for a long time (many times under an alternate title, which is why I couldn't catch it the first few times). You can't quite get that same experience online.

  4. Sark, what a lovely and nostalgic article about a time in your life and a person who shared it. Now that computers have taken over the world, nobody gets to have that kind of personal experience anymore. I feel sorry for the kids who will never know any different than the faceless, emotionless and uncaring internet. I felt that way about Leon, as you saw in my article, and it was priceless. It's funny, but Leon knew I loved certain genres of movies, too, and he would sometimes hold them back until I came in to see if I wanted them. Especially Errol Flynn and horror movies. When you talked about missing the creaking floors and the cats and the excitement of having a particular movie that caught your eye, you just about brought me to tears. Those were the days when people ran their own businesses, not giant corporations, and I miss that terribly. It was certainly a blow to the boys and me when Leon died. I'd like to think that Jackie and Leon both know how important they were to us.

  5. What an enchanting recollection, Sark! I know what you mean about perusing the boxes because you may realize you found something you wanted to see for a while or noted a movie features a performer/writer/director for which you have developed a fondness. And it's just not quite the same thing shopping on line.

    Jackie sounded like a precious jewel! It's a nice moment when you are acknowledged as a regular. Many people are willing to do a little bit more to make sure you stay a regular, like knowing your preferences for the horror genre. I know that Jackie and the Bookery will live on far longer than the lovely lady or her delightful establishment.

    It was sweet to read about Leon and Jackie and even Lew. I liked the idea of being one stop for films and treats.

  6. Sark, Thank you for sharing your heartwarming story, about your friend Jackie and her wonderful, little Bookery. I really did not get into watching movies until I was in my 40s. Now.. when I go looking for a movie on my "gotta see" list, I drive over to Barns and Noble, where I can smell the aroma of their coffee and baked goods. Like Toto.. I like the idea of movies and treats.

  7. Sark, as a patron of The Bookery, your recollections are wonderful!!! The Bookery had a great feeling of communtity to it. One of my favorite pictures of my family is from trick or treating with my niece at The Bookery. I also miss Blue and the other cat. That's something that you won't get at Blockbuster! A cat to greet you at the door or another one walk around with you!!!!

  8. What a lovely, lovely piece. Places like that are very special. Thanks for sharing.

  9. What a beautiful memory of a place and person you loved! I could tell how much Jackie liked you just by the way you described her. She would be honored to know that others have read about her. In my small town we didn't have a video rental place for many years. So my husband and I didn't see many movies when the children were young. One of my sons loves movies as much as you, Sark. When the first video rental place opened, he wanted to go there everyday and rent everything. We had to say no to "everything." Beautiful and touching story.

  10. Nice. My Jackie's name was Mr. Harrolds and he'd save me some of the promo stuff that came with the videos.