Bayou City

Remembering Houston's Video-Rental Mecca, Now Five Years Gone

Audio/Video Plus had a little something for everyone.
Audio/Video Plus had a little something for everyone. Screenshot of Vimeo
There was a time — believe it or not — when people in Houston, just like in a lot of other places, were trained to do one thing on Friday and Saturday nights: rent videos. 

For a long time, the renting involved plastic boxes with metal tape, something the elders refer to as VHS tapes. The stores that peddled these wares were lovely places, lined with movies and offering everything from bukkake porn to the latest Jean-Claude Van Damme mass-market video release. To be honest, the bukkake appeared only in the failing mom-and-pop shops, since porn was their only hope for survival as we hit the new millennium.

At least the places I always worked were always part porn video stores and part legit Friday-night Hollywood movie rental video stores. The one Blockbuster video gig I had, however, had none of that nonsense, just row after row of Mortal Kombat or whatever was hot that week.

Before the onslaught of Blockbuster and Hollywood Video took over H-town, there was a video store that catered to all the weirdos and the film buffs, and the store lived a pretty long life. This year marks five years since Audio/Video Plus shut its doors for good. The store was in business from 1978 to 2012, according to AVP historian and owner of most of the store’s inventory when it closed, Tayvis Dunnahoe.

Dunnahoe is all about that VHS life and is the city’s own archivist who got into the VHS collecting game under his online handle, Benny Junko. While Junko is keeping the memory of Audio/Video Plus alive through his online VHS site, he says the memory of that monolith of movie culture slowly fading away still hurts.

“It was too painful,” he says about going to the store during the summer of 2012, just months before its complete demise. The tapeheads’ mecca stood on the corner of West Clay and Waugh. At the time, nothing was more Houston than Audio/Video Plus. Just take a look at one of their commercials. It features all the rich weirdness you would expect from a spot in Montrose.

Audio / Video Plus from Window Pictures on Vimeo.

“They initially changed their hours to weekends-only and toted tables out front for flea-market type sales,” Dunnahoe remembers. “People hauled away pickup loads of ex-rental tapes for about a month.”

Dunnahoe says he spent at least five years of his life picking through the stacks at AVP with the precision of a surgeon. The key to good video hunting, especially VHS, is to go for the extremely rare and, sometimes, extremely bad tapes.

When he saw the writing on the wall for the business, which lasted about as long as most of the corporate-owned Blockbuster shops, he sprang into action.

“I had initially pitched them on buying the store in 2011, but got no kind of response," Dunnahoe explains. "I showed up one time a few weeks later to buy out their Laserdisc section. Then, out of nowhere, they shut down altogether by early 2012. I purchased the remaining inventory in August 2014."

AVP had more than 63,900 videos, according to that slick commercial above. While Netflix and every other streaming service has rendered video stores mostly obsolete, it’s important to remember those who kept us entertained. AVP was one of those Houston gems.

So pour out a little liquor for the shop next time you cozy up to a weekend movie. They brought it to you first.
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Camilo Hannibal Smith started writing for the Houston Press in 2014. A former copy editor, he was inspired to focus on writing about pop culture and entertainment after a colleague wrote a story about Paul Wall's grills. His work has been published in the Los Angeles Times and the Source magazine.