For decades of my life, Mckay’s (also known as McKay Used Books & CDs) was my home away from home. The best spot in all of Chattanooga, Tennessee.
For as long as I can remember, the bulk of my entertainment goods came from this store, a place that sells books, comics, video games, music, board games, figurines, and practically everything you can think of that qualifies as vaguely nerdy. The vast majority of my books came from either McKay’s or the Scholastic Book Fair, and it was mostly the former anyway.
First, It Was Video Games
McKay’s is the store where my parents purchased Banjo-Kazooie, Super Mario 64, Pokemon Snap, Sonic Adventure, and many more Nintendo 64 and Dreamcast games that ultimately cemented me as a video game lover for all my life. This is the store where my grandparents would take my brother and me when they had us for the weekend, so we could get a new $20 game on Gamecube to play for a few hours then discard to go back to Warioware or something. This is the store where Star Wars hardcovers were sold so cheaply circa 2008 that I ended up with a near-complete collection of all Star Wars novels up to that point, in hardback.
Even when my family was at its very poorest, we still regularly went to McKay’s once every couple months, and often with some tough strategies. You see, Gamestop lets you trade in games, but McKay’s lets you trade in everything. And also it gives more than Gamestop’s awful ~5% trade-in value.
In order to finance new purchases, my brother and I made some hard choices and traded in a whole lot of our classic older games, especially anything available on a newer generation console (such as Virtual Console on Wii). I sold pretty much all of my books I ever owned, too. But that was basically the only “new” stuff we were able to buy for a few years. If not for McKay’s, we’d have been stuck replaying Toy Story 2: Buzz Lighyear to the Rescue and the first Animal Crossing for most of our formative years (not such a bad idea, to be honest).
I got Mass Effect 1 and 2 there. I got Halo 3, Civilization Revolution, Paper Mario 2, Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, Battalion Wars, and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion there. These video games formed the basis of my teenage years; some of them became my all-time favorites.
Besides all the Star Wars books and comics that led me down a dark path into loving the Star Wars Expanded Universe, I bought lots of other comics there too. I started my vast collection of Ultimate Marvel comics, and I even briefly read The Walking Dead before it got too popular and I had to be a hipster about it.
But one area I basically ignored?
The Cheap Movie Section!
No clue why I did. In the store there was always a massive, disorganized horizontal shelf of movies priced at $2. And for some reason I never really looked at them for the first eighteen years of my life.
By the end of high school I was really starting to watch movies more often; I went to the movie theater about once a week, rented from Redbox often, and saw a lot of stuff on Netflix, but my DVD collection was very sparse.
For some reason, that all changed on my very last trip to McKay’s before moving to university in August of 2013.
I decided I would buy a lot of cheapo $2 films, watch them all, then trade them back in next time I came back to my hometown. So I got all sorts of movies I knew a little bit about, or movies by directors I wanted to watch more of. It was an odd assortment of titles, a couple dozen, but it also only cost about $40 total.
Here is a sample of the sorts of movies I saw in my first semester of university thanks to all these weird DVDs I got, such as:
Up in the Air
We <3 Huckabees
Kill Bill 1 & 2
Lost in Translation
The Ides of March
Starsky & Hutch
A real hodgepodge, eh? They were mostly 00s films, since that was the DVD boom. But other than that the only commonality was that they were mostly unpopular, and mostly not worth more than $2 or $3 used.
My Dive Into Film
So many of these films were also auteur-indie type films. That led me to gravitate towards specific directors and get a lot deeper into the “film scene”. And my first directors to dive more deeply into?
Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino…
Yes, that’s right. I almost became a Film Bro. These two directors were the very first ones I watched the full filmographies for—all 7 features from Tarantino, and all eight from Nolan. And I loved almost every movie that either of them put out. Still do, in fact.
I sought out their movies very intentionally because I liked them a lot, and that inspired me to go deeper into the filmographies of other people as well. I watched other Jason Reitman movies like Thank You For Smoking, other Darren Aronofsky movies like Pi and The Fountain, and other David O. Russell movies like Silver Linings Playbook. Not many of them I latched onto, though, and I didn’t completely watch any of those three.
I Didn’t Become a Film Bro
I almost became a Film Bro… but it didn’t take. In many ways, actually thanks to McKay’s that I didn’t. Because I was very invested in paying only $2 for most movies; film bro directors like David Fincher and Martin Scorsese and Wes Anderson’s movies were usually more expensive. So I usually went with other options instead.
Charlie Kaufman. That’s who I fell in love with first that went a little bit outside the Film Bro realm. First I watched Adaptation., a bombastic meta-movie starring Nic Cage, Chris Cooper, and Meryl Streep. Its sense of humor was right up my alley and I fell in love immediately. ThenI watched Being John Malkovich and loved it even more! Then came the heart-wrenching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and finally the postmodern masterpiece Synecdoche, New York. (I watched Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Human Nature later but they’re not as good.) If there was ever a filmmaker who captured my creative spirit, it was him. And aside from Synecdoche, all his movies were really cheap at McKay’s! Yay.
The cycle of watching cheap movies, trading them back in, then getting more, satiated my movie spirit for years. I fell deeper and deeper in love with the medium over the next few years. Eventually, at the end of December 2015, I decided to talk about my love for movies to the world with my Letterboxd profile.
I Love McKay’s
McKay’s helped me learn to love film just by having a bunch of cheap movies. And really, McKay’s helped me in other mediums too. Would I have really gotten into video games if I could never afford them? No way. Comics are more readily available online for free, but I’d have never found the interest if not for my days spent thumbing through the pages of whatever trade paperback I bought that month.
Now that digital media is more and more popular, I imagine that used media stores are failing across the world. Ebooks are cheap and extremely easy to deal with; video games go on sale so often that even the prices at McKay’s get beat; streaming services like Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, etc. make the $2 used video selection look like a relic of the 00s DVD boom; Marvel Unlimited gives you access to thousands of comics just months after they release–trade paperbacks are no longer useful for casual reading. And, honestly, the local library is just as good a place to find entertainment as a used media store, for far cheaper.
But that won’t stop me from going to McKay’s the second I go back to my hometown one day. And I’ll buy a bunch of stuff.
I made a movie too, you know, back in 2015. Read about the making of Barty Anderson 4 here!
4 thoughts on “McKay’s, Cheap DVDs, and My Path to Becoming a Film Lover [2013-2015]”
It’s only within the past few years that I’ve gotten interested in used-stuff stores and exploiting libraries, but since high school I’ve racked up some great gems and memories with them. I’ve been checking out books, comics, comic books, and comics from libraries since forever, but the for-sale section of the library I practically lived in during a couple of high-school summers really started me down the path.
Now I enjoy haunting thrift stores, record shops, and the few hipster-y video rental places that still manage to exist, as well as Half-Price Books and Bookman’s (which I’m guessing are used-stuff chains virtually identical to McKay’s, except that Bookman’s probably sells its DVDs for WAY too much). I like to just look around, then go “ooh” and pick something up. Most of what I’ve gotten is books and music. This is how I learned about Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express as well as the novelization of that Herbie movie where Herbie goes to Europe.
I think so much of the experience of used bookstores, and used goods stores in general, is the surprise of finding random stuff you never knew of, or never sought out directly. In an age where, if you REALLY want something, you can probably find it online for sale, it’s nice to accidentally stumble on novelizations of long-forgotten movies, or DVDs starring an actor you like in some movie you’ve never heard of.