When Jacqueline Byers opens her movie cupboard, she sees more than familiar titles printed on cardboard sleeves. She sees the stories that made her laugh and cry so many times. And she sees her mother, their memories practically etched into each strand of film.
Byers kept her late mother’s eclectic collection of VHS tapes, and it’s easy to see why many appreciate their sentimental value. Long before DVD and Blu-ray, parents raised their children with a VHS camcorder in hand, ensuring every giggle and wobbly step was captured for eternity – or at least until the tape went bad.
For others, the cheap price tag on VHS tapes is enough of a reason to forgo modern viewing devices. Whatever the motivation, 58 percent of Americans still have a VCR at home, according to a recent Gallup poll of more than 1,000 people. Poll results indicated that households are more likely to have a VCR than a desktop computer (57 percent), iPod or MP3 player (45 percent), or video game console like an Xbox or Playstation (41 percent).
Byers, of Canton Township, has about 400 VHS tapes and even more DVDs. Her mother, Dorothy Lucille Byers, loved classic films and musicals, including “The Bad Seed” and, especially, “The Sound of Music.”
“We played it more than anything, and it’s still in mint condition,” Byers said of the 1965 musical starring Julie Andrews. “I still miss her terribly, but when I watch the videos it’s almost like she is with me.”
Many 20-somethings who grew up with VHS tapes also have a fondness for them. Ashley Cross of Washington said she used to record “Dukes of Hazzard” when Country Music Television aired reruns.
“I’ve had my VCR for 11 years, since I was 12 years old, and I used it to record my favorite show, which ended up becoming a hobby,” Cross said. “I love having one because it’s good to watch old VHS tapes every once in a while.”
Karen Campbell, a sales associate at Hidden Treasures, said she regularly sees customers of all ages purchasing VHS tapes from the thrift store on Jefferson Avenue in Washington.
“They’re cheap,” Campbell said. “They’re a buck apiece. We sell a lot, maybe 10 a day.”
Campbell said the store receives one or two donated VCR players per week, and customers buy those, too.
The Fishers, of Cecil Township, use their VCR daily. Cindy Fisher said her five children have watched VHS tapes for as long as they’ve been alive. She had a laugh when her 4-year-old son’s friend – accustomed to watching movies on an iPad – pointed to an “Aladdin” tape and asked, “What is it?”
Fisher said she has a large collection of tapes, and it would cost about $1,000 to replace them on DVD. Although tapes are now harder to find in stores, Fisher said she has traded a quarter for classic Disney movies at yard sales.
Like Disney flicks, other mass-produced movies that frequent thrift store shelves are the “Star Wars” and “Batman” series, “Titanic” and, oddly enough, “Jerry Maguire,” the 1996 comedy-drama starring Tom Cruise, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Renée Zellweger.
The ubiquitous nature of “Jerry Maguire” prompted one comedy website to search for every copy in existence. “Everything is Terrible,” which features VHS movie clips from the mid-'80s to early '90s, has accumulated about 7,000 copies.
“Since the dawn of VHS, we’ve been chronicling wild packs of Maguires in their native thrift store habitat with our patented Maguirewatches,” reads EIT’s “Jerry Maguire” page.
Scott Whiteman, member and contributor of EIT, said VHS tapes were so inexpensive to mass produce in the '80s and '90s “that we don’t even realize how many tapes were made.” Whiteman, 31, of the Bloomfield section of Pittsburgh, said there are about 50,000 movies available only in VHS format, and he has about a thousand tapes in his personal collection.
“For me, there’s a big thing with just finding stuff that’s exciting,” Whiteman said, adding that he visits thrift stores to find movies that are “totally weird and unique” or “off the radar.”
While some predict the VHS era ultimately will fizzle out, Whiteman doesn’t seem to think so.
“I don’t think it is going to die soon,” he said. “It kind of settled, but the interest is definitely there.”