The History Behind Erol’s Video Club

by Prince Of Petworth July 22, 2011 at 11:00 am 22 Comments

On Tuesday, we saw the old Erol’s Video Club sign that was revealed after the Blockbuster sign was dismantled on Barracks Row. There were some fond memories of Erol’s from many readers so I wanted to share this note I received from the founder’s grandson:

My grandfather Erol Onaran moved to DC from Turkey in the early 60’s and opened an electronics sales and service place called Erol’s TV. The business did well, but didn’t take off until he began renting videotapes around 1980. Erol’s Video grew from a handful of local locations into a large chain, eventually reaching over 250 stores and stretching from Raleigh to New York, and expanding west into cities like Cleveland and Indianapolis. But by the late 80’s the industry had changed, and a family-run business was unable to compete with the big, public chains. Facing mounting losses and dwindling market share, we sold the company to Blockbuster in the early 90’s.

A few years later, my father Orhan Onaran purchased the old TV shop back from Blockbuster and began selling and fixing PC’s in addition to TV’s. But that didn’t really go anywhere until we began bundling unlimited dial-up internet access with the PC’s we sold. At the time, internet access was sold by the hour, so the unlimited access business model was a huge hit. Erol’s Internet began to grow very rapidly during the dot com boom, signing up hundreds of thousands of subscribers on the East Coast by the mid-90’s. But like so many businesses back then, the company never actually made much money. Rather than go public to raise capital, we sold the internet business outright to RCN, who rebranded the internet service as Starpower in the local market.

My grandfather passed away in 2005, and we finally closed our last repair shop shortly thereafter. We’re very proud of our nearly 40 year run in DC, and we’re glad that people remember the businesses fondly. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  • Anonymous

    Aesome. Thanks for sharing.

    • Veronika


    • Eli


  • Cornholio

    Adds a whole other element to it. Very cool. Stories like that seem to be less and less common these days, which is sad.

  • spookiness

    Neat post. The mention of Erol’s brings back memories of old-school metro-DC businesses (and TV ads) from the 70’s and 80’s. Jhoon Rhee karate, car dealer commercials, jingles, etc. etc.

  • victoria

    I still have my Erol’s card! Blockbuster used to accept it – back when there was still a Blockbuster – so I just never changed!

    • Sully

      Me too! Right next to my Planet Music membership!

  • Mike

    My parents still have an @erols.com email address!

  • Bryce Onaran

    Thanks very much for posting, we love to talk about the old days. A couple of trivia things-

    Those old Erol’s boxes everyone remembers were actually assembled by hand. Staff at the headquarters used knives to cut the original boxes up and pasted the pieces onto the huge boxes by hand. The bigger boxes did a better job of protecting the tapes, and they were much harder to steal.

    Does everyone remember that awful red carpet in the stores? My grandfather insisted on it, and had the exact same carpet in his house in Springfield.

    Our @erols.com addresses still work, too. We have no idea why.

    And finally, some readers might get a kick out of this. People ask me about it all the time: http://twitpic.com/5u1pqz

    • Derek

      I remember black boxes for betamax and red boxes for VHS!

  • Grant

    I remember going to Erols in beltsville md as a boy…. Only spot that rented laserdiscs

  • ryan2499

    Great post! And awesome tat Bryce!

  • Denizen of Tenallytown

    Very cool stuff. It’s interesting to hear about local and regional businesses and how they impacted the area, and how they eventually got sucked up as part of the greater trends. I had no idea that StarPower was actually started as a local area ISP.

    • Joesep

      Starpower was a 50-50 partnership between Pepco and RCN, which was based in New Jersey back then. RCN bought out Pepco’s share five or six years ago, and they’ve since relocated their headquarters to Herndon.

  • oink

    My first email address was an erols.com address.

  • JohnnyReb

    Does anyone else remember in the early-mid 80’s there was another video rental store around here called The Video Place? I only remember that because their tv commercials had a catchy little jingle: “My favorite place to go… is the Video Place!”

  • CA

    That was so awesome to read! I grew up in Clarksville, MD and my family would drive to Columbia, MD to rent videos every Friday night from the Erol’s there. I remember rushing my mother as soon as school would let out so that the new releases would still be available to rent. That night after dinner we would use our air popper to make popcorn–pre microwave popcorn–and all sit around and watch movies.

    Such an awesome piece of my childhood!

  • Shaw Parent

    Must have gone to Erol’s a thousand times with my parents. Thanks for the post Bryce

  • Jack Momma

    Wow, flash from the past!

    I miss going into stores to rent videos, having a list of cover pictures on a PC just doesn’t have the same effect of viewing lots of titles and then getting excited about a movie before renting and bringing them home and then being disappointed that there is not enough nudity in them.

    I still have a tube TV though, for nostalgia purposes.


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