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‘I love VHS!’ Tapes experience a comeback in unusual ways

VHS tapes
Posted at 12:49 PM, Sep 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-24 12:49:41-04

At one time, most of us owned something that stocked our shelves. That something was a big deal for years, but one day, its era ended and off it went to garage sales and thrift stores.

We’re talking about VHS tapes, and they’re making something of a comeback in some unusual ways.

“I love VHS, absolutely!” smiled Andy Campbell-Firkus of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, as he sat in front of a wall of VHS tapes in his garage. “People walk in and say, ‘Wow, you have a lot of movies. Then, it’s like, ‘what’s this title? I’ve never heard of that.’ I have around 1,500 VHSes. I used to have probably 5,000.”

How does someone even manage to get that many? Well, Campbell-Firkus worked at a number of video stores in the mid-2000s.

“A lot of stores got rid of their VHS sections. While they did that, I took ‘em,” he explained.

The more rare and odd, the better.

“Cat Adventure Video is one of those that you put on to entertain your cats,” he said, holding up a VHS from his collection. “I’m like, ‘How am I not gonna buy this?’”

Campbell-Firkus is part of a growing community of VHS collectors that often buy and trade old tapes from the era of “Be Kind, Rewind.” That’s even though the last VCR was manufactured in 2016 and major Hollywood studios by and large stopped releasing on VHS in 2006

Campbell-Firkus said in the age of streaming, the appeal of VHS is a little like the returned interest in vinyl. Though vinyl saw a return to major stores, that has not happened to VHS. Campbell-Firkus said there’s something similar between that vinyl crackling and how the sounds of VHS can also bring back memories.

“I love the feeling of popping in the tape physically,” he said. “It’s something you don’t get hitting play on YouTube, you know.”

“This is not trash,” said Brian Morrison, holding up a VHS of Back to the Future. “We’re throwing away too much of our history.”

Morrison is part of the nonprofit Free Blockbuster. They have little free community libraries that have become popular for people to share movies, usually VHSes.

“It’s kinda magical when people like it and want to do it, too,” said Morrison. “As of today, we now have 84 locations across the United States, Canada, and Australia.”

Both Campbell-Firkus and Morrison point out there are a lot of movies and shows to discover that never made it past VHS.

“I’d say a lot of this is B-movie and cult weirdness,” Campbell-Firkus laughed, motioning to his collection.

“Here’s Tiger Sharks,” Morrison said, holding up another VHS. “It’s one of my favorite cartoons when I was growing up. This isn’t on Netflix. This is the only place I can find this.”

The interest in VHS is also being seen on sites like eBay where many titles, often vintage Disney, have sellers asking for hundreds, even thousands of dollars.

Campbell-Firkus said that isn’t what the collectors today are really about. He said the great appeal of VHS for him today is the community, that even after these many years since the VHS era, there’s still a shared love of movies and how many first saw them. Campbell-Firkus posts his collection daily to the Instagram page, Firkenstein Films. He said there’s nothing quite like a day in the garage taking in a movie.

“I grew up with it,” Campbell-Firkus said. “It was part of my childhood, my teen years. It was part of my life and for me, it didn’t go away.”

For more on Free Blockbuster, visit their website.