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  • Chris McHugh

Finding Video 7

It was more than a year ago that I traveled to Shelton, Connecticut to pick up more than 400 VHS tapes from a guy giving them away. I figured I would rescue these recorded-on tapes so that someone could enjoy them. I knew I couldn’t keep them, but I figured that fate would help them find a good home somehow. This was going to be my second 400-tape rescue via Facebook Marketplace in as many weeks and my shed was getting full.


On the way to pick up the tapes, I thought I caught a glimpse of some type of video store when I took the exit off the highway and headed into a residential area.


As the man getting rid of the tapes and I moved boxes of VHS into my car, I asked him if I had really seen a video store on the way. He said yes and added that he was sure that the old video store was a front for something.

Video 7 Owner Bob Achille taking a break while filming
Video 7 Owner Bob Achille taking a break while filming

When I got back in the car, I decided that I would try to backtrack and find the store that I had caught a glimpse of. I circled around the block once to no avail. I tried a second time and came up snake eyes. I decided that if I couldn’t find it on the third pass, then it wasn’t meant to be and I would keep on driving.


On that third pass, I found it. I parked as close as I could get to the entrance and walked up. It was getting dark outside, but I couldn’t resist pressing my face up against the glass and seeing what might be inside. I couldn’t believe that right in front of me was nothing but glorious VHS tapes. The sign on the door said, “Call the owner at 203-735-7777. Will open store if possible.”


Of course I called as soon as I got in the car, but I got voicemail.


That night, I read in the local, online newspaper that the store’s owner, Bob Achille, was a teacher at a local school. I found his contact info and called his office number. The person who picked up the phone said that Bob was on sick leave right now.


Days turned into weeks. I started to worry that Bob may be dealing with a bigger health issue than the person filling in for him at work had indicated. But all I could do was wait, and pray that everything was okay with this Bob, a man that I had never met.


As I waited longer for a call back, my imagination began to run wild. I thought that maybe Bob and I would hit it off. And we’d put our creative hats on and make videos at his store. I had to keep bringing myself down to reality. After all, why would someone who you never met want to take part in such a thing? I focused on keeping an even keel, but before I went to bed each night, thoughts of reinvigorating this video store and creating videos there kept flying through my head.


Bob ended up calling me back. We met and surprisingly hit it off right away, just as I had imagined. His love for people, helping others, as well as his creativity and the entrepreneur in him shined so incredibly brightly during that first meeting. I wouldn’t even have thought that Bob was dealing with a health issue if he hadn’t told me.


During that first meeting, I eventually decided to float the idea of perhaps filming something at his store, Video 7. I was met by a flurry of ideas from Bob who rivaled my own wild creative thoughts.


We agreed that I would interview Bob inside his store. Over the next few weeks, there was a continual stream of phone calls and texts as the project evolved from just a sit-down interview to an episode involving an elaborate introduction including comedic shots.


I came to shoot the show intro with a shot sheet, ready to bang out filming the intro in a methodical fashion. Bob, as he had done on the phone and texts, continually offered up creative ideas. After taking him up on his first creative suggestion, I quickly realized that literally everything Bob suggested took my ideas to the next level and greatly improved the entire production.


A few weeks after the show open shoot, Bob and I sat down to film the sit-down-style interview. I wanted to interview Bob and switch the shoot live with a video switcher because this was to be the first of many shows, and we wanted the interview to be essentially in the can once it had been filmed. Instead of purchasing an HD switcher and additional camera, we opted to go retro. I purchased an analog video/audio switcher off Ebay and planned to use two Super VHS camcorders I recently purchased for a retro look and feel.


Bob and I were more than two hours into the interview when we decided to take a break. He asked me if anyone would actually care about the stuff we were talking about. I assured him that there are many people who are very interested in this type of stuff and gave him a number of examples. As I was doing so, there was a knock on the door of the video store. A young man outside apparently thought the store was open because the video lights had Bob’s Video 7 lit up like a Christmas tree.


Bob answered the door and the young man, who said he was 18 and lived in the neighborhood, said he had always wanted to visit the store. While talking to Bob, he continually exclaimed how amazing it was to be in the store and how he’d love to schedule a tour in the future, and how great it was that we were filming. He also talked about how he loved collecting physical media and how he wanted to pass along all of his favorite movies to his kids, when he gets married someday.


The young man left. Bob and I looked each other in the eye and laughed. Bob said that his doubts about people wanting to learn about and celebrate his video store were instantly put to rest. He said, “There’s the proof. It just walked in the front door.”


The editing process took weeks because the color on the old camcorders didn’t match. I took the more drawn out process as a sign that I should channel Bob’s creativity and add music and B-roll interludes to the production.



Bob and McQ posing in the Video 7 entrance
Bob and McQ posing in the Video 7 entrance

The final product took a while to come to fruition, but Bob and I were pleased with the outcome. We began talking about the next video, but just as our creative juices started flow, fate would take a cruel turn. Bob’s health issue would rear its ugly head once again. We realized that we would have to hit the pause button.


Bob and I met up a few weeks later, I had needed to stop by to grab a video store card so I could upload it to the Video 7 web page. During that visit, Bob’s health issue cast a dark cloud over our conversation. And Bob and I conveyed more to each other with what was left unsaid than what was said verbally.


Before I left, Bob gave me the key to the front of the video store, in case I needed to film and he wasn’t able to let me in. He told me that it was the only copy he had.


What should have been one of the happiest moments of my life turned into one of the saddest, as all I could think about is the possibility that, in the future, Bob may not be behind the video store counter, the place he loved. The place he called his “power spot.”


Video stores can teach us a lot about life. The tapes can make us laugh, be amazed, but also can make us cry. You can’t ever watch a VHS tape for the first time again. Sure, you can rewind it and hit play again. But it’s never the same. The degradation of the tape inside is a metaphor for life–nothing lasts forever. But we’d get bored anyway if things did last forever anyhow.


I am a firm believer that you only live twice. So while in this life, the magnetic particles may fall off the tape, causing the sound and images to vanish. But I know that in the next life, all video store memories will shine bright and the new memories made will be even brighter.


Bob Achille 1957-2022


 

McQ is the producer of the retro show “Instantly Dated.” You can watch his episode with Bob at Video 7 by downloading the Instantly Dated app or by clicking here.


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