When I was growing up, there was so much more to visiting our local mom & pop video store beyond renting movies. Those cavernous repositories of cinematic wonders were often chock full of sensory stimulators. In a matter of moments, one might hear the clinking of quarters being dropped into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game in the corner or smell the freshly popped popcorn which sat next to the counter by the register in an old-fashioned kettle popcorn trolley.
There was also the signage. Each aisle would have a unique, handwritten sign for the various film genres in it: the comedy aisle would usually have a drawing of those chattering teeth—you know, those novelty toy teeth that you could wind up and annoy your friends with–and you could almost always count on the horror section having the word “H-O-R-R-O-R” written alongside drawings of skeletons, Jack-o-lanterns, and vampires. Blood dripping off the lettering was a plus.
And then there were the stickers. Lots and lots of stickers.
By stickers, I’m not talking about the kind you might have traded with your kiddie friends at summer camp. No, I’m talking about movie store stickers—the kind that littered video stores and the myriad tapes they rented and sold to media hungry customers, like the author of this article. Video store stickers, like the ones warning you to rewind your tape (or else!) and those highlighting a particular tape that might be too scary for people under 18 years of age, were integral parts of the video rental ecosystem.
Stickers applied to the VHS box art (or the tape itself) was also a way for that establishment to mark its inventory. These stickers were important for communicating all kinds of information to the renter or seller and served as another colorful way of curating movie collections. Peanut butter is to jelly what stickers are to VHS tapes.
Which brings me to Stuck On VHS: A Visual History of Video Store Stickers, a glorious new book by Josh Schafer, VHS enthusiast, collector, and advocate, and designer, Jacky Lawrence. Through Josh’s LunchmeatVHS brand, he’s been an important fixture in the larger VHS community for years, so, it can hardly be a surprise that he channeled his passion into a book that is less an oral history of VHS as it is a historical touchstone documenting VHS ephemera.
These VHS stickers are tiny portals into a bygone era. But this book isn’t just quirk for quirks sake. Rather, Stuck On VHS is an important, visual time capsule that seeks to remind (or educate for first-timers) readers that ephemera from the golden years of VHS is important and can tell us a lot about those communities. These stickers—each one of them—has a story to tell. Thanks to Schafer and Stuck On VHS, those stories are now being told.
I caught up with Josh Schafer recently to find out a little bit more about the genesis of this project. Here’s what he had to say: “These stickers were something that we didn’t see getting a ton of attention, but really just capture so much history, aesthetic, and culture from the video era. We wanted to create a document and curation that took you right back to being between those video store aisles; these stickers, however small or ephemeral, really help illustrate and define that time and expand the scope and rear view of that era.
They have a life all their own, and we wanted to preserve that inherent element of video store culture for people to revisit and enjoy – and hopefully, inspire them to take a closer look at those little stickers that live on all those former rentals.”
To be honest, I love all the stickers in this book, though I do have my favorites: the handwritten labels like the one that reads, “Mac + Me #2” presumably referring to their 2nd copy of the film in stock and those iconic green horror stickers we all remember (with my favorite being a green sticker from a copy of CREEPSHOW which sported a chubby vampire wearing glasses).
Then, of course, there are the individual video store stickers themselves, with some truly fantastic names like Ganges Video Ranch, Savage Video, Pick-A-Flick Video, and DJ’s Video & Snacks. There’s no shortage of interesting and rare videotape ephemera to marvel over on each and every page of this book. Trust me.
So, what are you doing reading this article? Go grab a copy of Stuck On VHS before they sell out again! Published by Birth.Movies.Death.. Hard Cover, 160 pages (plus three sticker pages). Available Here