Two boxes of Erol’s Betamax tapes were donated to MARMIA a few years ago and prompted this nostalgic look back.
Erol Onaran, once dubbed the “Video King,” began his TV and electronics business in 1963 shortly after relocating to the DMV from Turkey. In 1980, Onaran added video rentals to his business and by 1984 had one of the largest privately-owned video chains in the United States with 38 stores. When Blockbuster purchased Erol’s in 1991, it had expanded to 206 stores. Its markets included Washington, D.C., Baltimore, MD, Philadelphia, PA, Norfolk, VA, Richmond, VA, Cleveland, OH, and Chicago, IL.
Watch this clip from our collection! WJZ’s Al Sanders reports on the Erol’s prospective sale in this 1990 episode of Eyewitness News.
Erol’s reach extended beyond the United States and influenced a copycat video store chain in South America by a similar name, “Errol’s.” Errol’s was also purchased by Blockbuster when the company expanded to South America in 1996. When asked about Errol’s, a Chilean friend of MARMIA’s said he remembered that “suddenly, one day all of the Errol’s were blue!” Below are two commercials found on YouTube from Erol’s and Errol’s.
Erol’s robust membership program included rental discounts, monthly club newsletters featuring new theater releases, a “Discovery Club” that hosted monthly in-store meetings for movie buffs, activities with college film departments, and other similar programs. Erol’s goal was to highlight “truly enjoyable movies [that] fall through the home-video cracks due to lack of Hollywood exposure during those films’ theatrical runs.” Once in 1986, Erol’s invited all of its 400,000 video club members for its annual family day outing (when all stores were closed) to Richmond’s King Dominion.
Below is an image of an Erol’s Betamax tape in our collection.
1. Caroline E. Mayer, “Erol’s Founder Earns Title of ‘Video King,’” The Washington Post, August 26, 1985,
2. Bill Holland, “Erol’s Empire Grows in Washington: 38-Store Video Chain Is Rags-to-Riches Story,” Billboard, November 24, 1984, 20.
3. “Blockbuster Wraps Erol’s Buy At Lower Price,” Billboard, May 4, 1991, 85.
4. Bill Holland, “Erol’s Will Produce Its Own Cable TV Program,“ Billboard, May 31, 1986, 43.
5. “Blockbuster Buys South American Stores,” UPI, May 9, 1996, http://www.upi.com/Archives/1996/05/09/Blockbuster-buys-South-American-stores/8948831614400/
6. Earl Paige, “Erol’s Vid Club Program Discovers Neglected Films,” Billboard, June 11, 1988, 45.
7. “Erol’s Makes Magic at Company’s Annual Meet,” Billboard, October 21, 1989, 53.
This blog post was written by Joana Stillwell, MARMIA’s AV Archivist.
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