Tuesday 11 February 2020

Lament for a Video Shop: Video Llŷn

If you are what we term ‘a regular’ on here then you will already be fully aware of my YouTube channel, if not well, I urge you to subscribe, especially if you look back on the glory days of movie rentals as fondly as I do! In each video I create a painting that serves as a loving tribute to those VHS releases that we watched back in the 80’s and 90’s-so go check it out! (done it? Good) Despite the YouTube channel being my main focus, rest assured I haven’t abandoned the blog, no, far from it and I hope to make the ‘Lament a Video Shop’ posts a regular feature running ‘parallel’ with my videos in fact. So, if you would like to suggest a Video Shop that should feature in a future post, drop me a line or e-mail arfon@arfon.net
Right, last time we remembered Select Video, one of the numerous video shops that I frequented between 1991 and 1994, this time I thought we would turn the spotlight on another, Video Llŷn in Pwllheli North Wales, who opened in the early 1980’s but have a distinction that very few rental shops have these days... they are still open in the 21st century!

Video Llŷn (as in the Llŷn Peninsula, Gwynedd- North Wales)‘s story started with one Mr. Ian Jones who while working for a plastics firm noticed a demand for VHS clamshell cases. Surmising that VHS were going to be the next big thing he formed Video Llŷn on Sand Street in the market town of Pwllheli in November of 1983 and the move instantly proved to be popular one, so popular in fact that a second shop was opened twenty miles away on the High Street in Caernarfon in 1984 and a third, thirteen miles on New Street, Porthmadog in 1985. As Gwynedd and Anglesey is predominately rural,Video Llŷn also had five VW and Talbot Express vans that traveled all around, providing those unable to get to the shops the opportunity to get the latest video titles- even providing videos to the Valley Royal Air Force station on Anglesey. But the shops were the place to go to safeguard getting those latest releases. They even provided the video players themselves and offered a repair service (they even branched out to home computers, partnering with CPL Computers, the first Welsh language software company responsible for launching the first ever Welsh Language computer game in 1984). 

4 of the 5 Vans that provided videos to most of Gwynedd and Anglesey

Its dedication to its Welsh roots helped Video Llŷn to form a partnership with Welsh record label, SAIN who reached out to the shop when the Welsh language channel S4C granted the copyright and distribution rights to some of their welsh language programming, Sain needed an outlet- a way to reach the Welsh speaking public and Video Llŷn was it. The likes of Superted, Wil Cwac Cwac and Sam Tân (Fireman Sam) would no longer be limited to S4C scheduling but be available on tape to the children of Wales (The very first Welsh language tape was Superted and cost £50!) Video Llŷn worked closely with SAIN with the marketing side of things and even organised events promoting the latest releases at local schools and in store promotional days such as the time Wil Cwac Cwac came to visit the Pwllheli shop on the 25th of May 1985 to meet local children and give out free posters and stickers and encourage them to buy his latest video. 
There was one promotional ‘guest’ that visited the shop in 1990 however, that wasn’t so welcome, a Chinese Rat Snake! Debbie Evans, manageress of the Caernarfon shop received a special delivery in the shop one day and realised that the parcel in which she thought contained a rubber snake in fact turned out to be a live Chinese Rat Snake, sent as a publicity stunt by CIC Video, the distribution arm of Paramount Pictures whom had sent out 200 snakes (without prior warning) as publicity stunt to promote the release of Wes Craven’s Serpent and the Rainbow movie. The stunt managed to make the national newspapers and the News at Ten, raising issues about animal welfare and not the movie itself. What became of the Video Llŷn snake? Seems after appearing on the S4C news and front page of the Caernarfon & Denbigh news paper it disappeared whiles being transported from Caernarfon to Pwllheli... 

In the mid 90’s I became a student, an art one at that and commuted 30 miles each day to Bangor college and so this meant I was always in Pwllheli waiting for buses- as they could be few and far between this often presented me with the opportunity to not only visit the arcade but also the video shop to pick a movie for that evening, safe in the knowledge that I would be back early next morning to return it. Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Piranha 2 the Spawning and Jack Frost are just three of the many, many movies I rented from the shop. I was so fond of it in fact that I even incorporated into my college work sketching customers and staff and recreating the shop as a miniature!  As the 2000’s rolled in it seemed that DVD’s were the next big thing, but Video Llŷn was cautious of the new format having previously witnessed the battle between Beta and VHS during the 80’s (the shops had been running formats since 1983 before gradually phasing them out completely in 86) and so they tentatively started to introduce DVD’s to their line-ups in 2001 running both formats side by side before making the complete transition to DVD in 2006. 
 A steady decline in rental sales had been noted as early as the early 1990’s attributed to both the increasing popularity of Sky TV and video piracy and so the Caernarfon shop was sold as a going concern in 2002. The previously mentioned barriers didn’t help the Porthmadog shop either but when Dwyfor council imposed double yellow lines outside the shop they sealed its fate and it too was closed 2005. But the Pwllheli shop however continued to hold its own, despite having to relocate to Cardiff Road when their landlords, Agricultural Merchants Eifionydd Farmers merged with Wynnstay sold the land (it’s a Wilko store now) Video Llŷn is very much alive and open for business. 
Over the past few months I have had the great pleasure of archiving Video Llŷn, and we have been posting photos from days gone by on the shop’s Facebook page. So if you are local and want a nostalgia fix or you just like looking back at the glory days of video rentals join the Video Llŷn Facebook page and make use of the numerous galleries created for your viewing pleasure! 
Local and tired of the rubbish that television has on offer? Perhaps you are visiting the area for your holiday and need some movies? Be sure to visit the shop, and show your support! 
Tell them Arfon sent you!

TODAY: Video Llŷn located on Cardiff Road Pwllhlei

Video Llŷn, High Street Caernarfon (1984- 2002)

Video Llŷn, New Street Porthmadog (1985- 2005)

My sincere thanks to Ian Jones for granting me access to the archives, putting up with all my questions and for all the movies!

© Arfon Jones 2020. All images are copyrighted throughout the world.

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