As It Happens

Why this Torontonian is turning his bar into a VHS rental shop

Mike Reynolds says people are usually baffled when he tells them he’s transformed his bar into a VHS rental store.

'A lot of these streaming services don't have a lot of the classics,' says Farside owner Mike Reynolds

Farside bar owner Mike Reynolds is leaning in to his lovingly collected trove of old VHS tapes to keep his business going and deliver a bit of the fun people are craving. (Hector Vasquez )


Mike Reynolds says people are usually baffled when he tells them he's transformed his bar into a VHS rental store.

Farside, in Toronto's Chinatown, is renting the tapes alongside its usual pandemic takeout service. You can also rent a VCR with a USB adapter to play them. 

"There's a little bit of bewilderment, sort of like, 'Are you seriously doing this?" Reynolds told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"There's also a lot of nostalgia. It's kind of like flooding back. Everyone's asking me what the availability of their favourites are. You know, 'Do you have this movie? Do you have that one?'"

And the answer, he says, is usually yes.

A selection of horror VHS tapes available at Farside in Toronto's East Chinatown neighbourhood. (Hector Vasquez)

Reynolds has spent the last four years amassing a collection of VHS tapes for the bar, which, in pre-COVID days, would always have a video playing in the background on a projector.

Farside has 5,000 tapes on offer, with fan favourites, cult classics and bizarre B-movies that Reynolds has collected by scouring private sales, thrift shops and highway gas station bins.

"It's kind of got a little out of control," said Reynolds, whose pivot to video was first reported by BlogTO.

He says his oddball collection, which includes '80s G.I. Joe cartoon episodes and at least one of the Ernest movies, is what sets him apart from Netflix and other major streaming services. 

"But truth be told, I don't know, man. Like, a lot of these streaming services don't have a lot of the classics, the stuff that I personally want to watch," he said.

Farside even has a Blockbuster style membership available to its patrons. (Hector Vasquez )

Take, for example, the 1974 sci-fi flick Zardoz.

"That's a really weird Sean Connery movie that's super hard to find. When I purchased it, I got it off a guy in Kensington Market and his dogs almost ate me alive while I was in his apartment sifting through the tapes," Reynolds said.

"Sean Connery spends most of the movie running around in an orange bikini with a revolver while this stone head vomits guns on him and his fellow tribesmen. It's really strange. It could only be made in the '70s."

But Reynolds doesn't think he's going to ditch the bar business and single-handedly revive a video rental industry that's largely collapsed around the world.

Instead, he sees the venture as giving his customers another reason to come in and grab some takeout while indoor dining is closed.

"The idea is that you come into the bar and you grab a couple of beers to go and rent something. It kind of gets the same vibe that you would when we were going full throttle," he said. 

"It's sort of an incentive for people to still come by and to take a little piece of our home with them."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Lisa Bryn Rundle. 

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