How quickly they forget.

How quickly they forget.

Last March, when the Manitoba government announced for the first time that all non-essential businesses would have to close their doors to the public to help stem the spread of COVID-19, Ken Taylor Jr. read through an official document, trying to determine where his place of work fit in.

Once a common sight at every strip mall in town, pretty much, there was zero mention of operations such as his on the province’s naughty-and-nice list.

Still, he figured it was better to be safe than sorry, and cordoned off his 10,000 for-sale-or-rent VHS tapes and DVDs, a move he repeated from mid-November to the end of January.

"I don’t believe it was a mistake on the government’s part. I think they simply didn’t realize there are still a few of us around," says the managing owner of Video 1001, 576 Mountain St., which, along with two Video Cellar outlets, is among the last places in town where "be kind, rewind" remains part of the vernacular.

VHS movies are still available at Video 1001, though significantly fewer than the 30,000 titles the store rented in its heyday. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

VHS movies are still available at Video 1001, though significantly fewer than the 30,000 titles the store rented in its heyday. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Although video sales and rentals are no longer his main bread and butter — nowadays, if 20 movies go home with customers over the course of a weekend that’s considered a success, he allows — there are no plans in the works to swap out the name on his red-and-yellow masthead with something more reflective of what pays the bills: a fully stocked convenience store combined with a bustling laundromat.

"No, we’ve been Video 1001 so long, it wouldn’t make any sense to change now," he continues, reaching over to fire up a theatre-style popcorn popper, his first chore of the day, seven days a week.

"If anything, maybe I’d add a line to our outdoor sign, something like, ‘If we can survive Blockbuster, we can survive COVID, too.’"

Ken Taylor’s family-owned business has been around since the early '70s when it started as Ken’s Kar Klinic. Since then, the family has added videos to the mix and closed the service station. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Ken Taylor’s family-owned business has been around since the early '70s when it started as Ken’s Kar Klinic. Since then, the family has added videos to the mix and closed the service station. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Taylor was six years old in 1970 when his parents took over an existing Roco service station at the southeast corner of Mountain Street and McGregor Avenue, rebranding it Ken’s Kar Klinic for Ken Sr., a professional auto mechanic.

Movie rentals were added to the mix 13 years later. The elder Taylor suggested that might be an enterprise worth pursuing after he began noticing long lineups at a newly opened video shop near their home in East Kildonan.

Not that it was a particularly cheap venture to enter into at the time, recalls Taylor, who started pumping gas for his father at age 14, and has continued to punch the clock there ever since.

TALE OF THE TAPES

You’re not alone if you still have a fully operational video cassette recorder gathering dust in one corner of the basement, says Ken Taylor Jr., owner of Video 1001.

Last May, once he was able to resume renting and selling movies, “tons” of people spent time poring through his collection of VHS tapes, many of which can be purchased outright for a buck or two.

You’re not alone if you still have a fully operational video cassette recorder gathering dust in one corner of the basement, says Ken Taylor Jr., owner of Video 1001.

Last May, once he was able to resume renting and selling movies, “tons” of people spent time poring through his collection of VHS tapes, many of which can be purchased outright for a buck or two.m

“A lot of the stuff we have on tape was never released on DVD or Blu-ray, and people who collect that sort of thing kept telling us they needed something new to watch, now that they were stuck at home so much,” he says, standing near a sign reading, “Buy two, get the third one free.”

In addition to popular releases from the ‘80s and ‘90s, Taylor, an action movie “kind of guy,” also carries a fairly substantial number of adult films, a genre that was well-served by the VHS format. (Get this: some experts have speculated the reason VHS won the videotape war over Betamax had little to do with picture quality; instead, it was because significantly more pornographic films were made available on VHS versus Beta, back in the day.)

“It sounds funny to say but we sold more adult films a couple of weeks ago than we had in quite a while, maybe because it was Valentine’s Day,” he says, grinning from ear to ear.

"I remember my mom and dad going to this place on Dufferin (Avenue), one of the only VHS distributors in town, and paying something crazy like $10,000 for a box of 100 movies, without even knowing what they were getting," he says, mentioning the first VCR his parents brought home wasn’t exactly a bargain, either, costing them close to $1,200. (Those hefty price tags are bang-on; prior to Paramount Pictures releasing the Tom Cruise blockbuster Top Gun for US$26.95 in 1987 in order to appeal to the still-developing home video market, movie studios routinely charged US$89.95 for new releases, equivalent to about $250 today.)

Their investment paid off, so much so that they removed the gas pumps and shuttered the service station part of things completely in 1987 to concentrate entirely on movie rentals.

Why call it Video 1001? Was that how many different titles they had on hand? A family member’s lucky number? No and no, says Taylor, one of four siblings, all of whom worked for their parents at one time or another. Rather, it was inspired by a cardboard placard their father had kicking around, one that read, "1,001 auto parts."

Laundry machines made the store a community hub. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Laundry machines made the store a community hub. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

A couple of amusing anecdotes from the olden days: first, not long after they opened a satellite location in the Pine Falls region — by 1989 there were seven Video 1001s, all told — an RCMP officer informed the Taylors the crime rate in that community had dropped significantly, now that the local ne’er-do-wells could cheer on the likes of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the comfort of their own homes.

Secondly, at their flagship store in the North End, scores of people happily forked over $4 for a lifetime membership, with no intention whatsoever of renting a single motion picture. Originally, a Video 1001 card included an affixed image of its bearer taken with an in-store Polaroid camera, attractive to those who required photo ID for one reason or another.

“This part of town is unique in the sense that not everybody is always able to pay their bills on time, which means the cable sometimes gets shut off. That is, if they can even afford cable, Netflix or the internet in the first place." –Ken Taylor Jr.

Taylor credits his mother Fran for pulling in movie buffs early on from every corner of the city. It was important to her that they not only stocked box-office hits, but classics such as The Greatest Story Ever ToldCitizen Kane and Casablanca, as well.

Whether each was rented often enough — no inflation there, it still costs $3 to take home a movie, the same as it did 35 years ago — to recoup the purchase price was secondary to building a strong library, she felt.

At a certain point, if Video 1001 or former Osborne Village stalwart Movie Village, renowned for its expansive foreign and arthouse movie sections, didn’t have a certain title on the shelf, your chances of viewing it were slim to none, Taylor says.

VHS movies, including a substantial number of adult films, are still available for purchase. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

VHS movies, including a substantial number of adult films, are still available for purchase. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Why Video 1001 remains alive and kicking where so many failed is easy to explain, he says. Theirs was probably the first video store to diversify by offering row upon row of snacks and drinks to customers who popped in to peruse new releases.

By the time home video conglomerate Blockbuster entered the picture in the early 1990s, a set of circumstances that caused the majority of mom-and-pop outlets in Winnipeg and, indeed, across North America, to go belly-up, the Taylors had already built up a steady, loyal clientele. Many came in regularly — and still show up like clockwork — not necessarily to rent a movie, but to buy lottery tickets, have a key made or grab a slushie or ice cream cone for their kids.

"If the last time you came here was 10 years ago, you’ll immediately notice the floor space we reserve for movies is a fraction of what it once was," he says, nodding toward a neatly-kept area to his left, where feature films are filed from A to Z, along with a bank of popular TV shows and miniseries.

"But even though it’s a lot more squished together, people still seem to be able to lose themselves for an hour, trying to decide what they’re in the mood for."

Oh sure, Taylor could probably stage a blowout sale and get out of the movie biz completely without affecting his bottom line. Except if there was one thing he learned last spring and summer when COVID rules were relaxed, it was that the opportunity to rent a flick in person on a Friday or Saturday night is still welcomed by certain sectors of the population.

‘Maybe I’ll add a line to our outdoor sign, something like “If we can survive Blockbuster, we can survive COVID, too”,’ jokes Video 1001’s Ken Taylor. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

‘Maybe I’ll add a line to our outdoor sign, something like “If we can survive Blockbuster, we can survive COVID, too”,’ jokes Video 1001’s Ken Taylor. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

"This part of town is unique in the sense that not everybody is always able to pay their bills on time, which means the cable sometimes gets shut off. That is, if they can even afford cable, Netflix or the internet in the first place," he says.

"My staff and I hear it all the time; how a parent appreciates the fact they can come in with their kids and grab a few Disney movies for the weekend. Especially these days, when you can’t even go to a theatre to get a bit of distraction from everything that’s going on in the world."

david.sanderson@freepress.mb.ca

David Sanderson

Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.

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