“Saturday, February 5, 2011
Nondescript and nearly swallowed by the general blight of Jefferson Davis Highway, Thornbill’s store gives no clue that it houses the largest extant VHS collection on the East Coast. And that’s just what’s on the shelves, available for rental to anyone willing to pay the $5 membership fee.
He locked his front door, turned his sign to closed, and escorted me down an impressive gauntlet of vintage porn, through a steel door and into a vast, climate-controlled storeroom in the back that housed a large quantity of unknowns. I was tempted to inquire about certain other rarities that had long eluded me, but in the end felt it best to focus on the task at hand.
Inside a framed and sheet-rocked subdivision of the storeroom, Thornbill had a HR-S8000U hooked up to a Sony Triniton CRT. The inner walls of this room were lined with soundproofing tiles to allow for the private screening of any manner of material. Thornbill excused himself for a moment and returned with an aluminum attaché case, which he placed on the table, unlocked, and opened. It contained eight VHS-C cassettes of the make and vintage I was expecting, plus a folder full of photos and police reports.
Thornbill powered on the VCR and the television, presented me with an adapter cassette, and then excused himself again. As he left the room I asked if he had seen the tapes. He said he had not and would like to keep it that way, but he had every confidence that they were genuine. He had acquired them directly from a retired Richmond P.D. captain. Thornbill said this in a way that made it clear from which direction my troubles would come if I was ever foolish enough to be indiscreet with this information. I asked him why his source had decided to sell them now, after all these years. Thornbill said the man had protected her for as long as he could and just needed someone else to shoulder the burden. It was a strange choice of words, overly metaphoric for a cop. I was eager to take possession of the tapes and be gone with them before Thornbill changed his mind, but I also wanted to be certain the material was genuine. I inserted the first five tapes in sequence and watched a few minutes of each. Immediately I knew that things would never be the same.”