☞ Wow, What Indifference, Blockbuster Video.
I used to live across the street from a Blockbuster Video. A year or two later I lived across the street from an out of business Blockbuster Video.
Just to be clear: In this story, I was not the one who moved out, it was the Blockbuster.
After declaring bankruptcy in 2011, Blockbuster has finally announced it’s throwing in the towel for good. Time of death: January. ish. Blockbuster will ring in the new year by shuttering its remaining 300 or so brick and mortar stores and calling it quits with its DVD-by-mail service. (Blockbuster Video and the US Postal Service: two fallen empires that taste great together!)
Indeed, come January, the only remnants of Blockbuster will be the 50 or so “franchise” stores scattered about our fine nation. These are the stores operated by individual folks who pay Blockbuster licensing fees to use the good (?) Blockbuster name and its marketing. With the mothership going out of business, these stores will be on their own. They’re mostly located in out of the way type places where high speed internet (read: Netflix) is still a dicey proposition. There’s a bunch in Alaska, Texas, and yes, Oregon. Way to stay behind, Oregon.
(Sidenote: I find it delightfully ironic that the independently run Blockbuster Videos outlasted their corporate counterparts. After Blockbuster put countless mom and pop video stores out of business, it’s the mom and pop run Blockbusters that survive.) (And by “survive” I mean stay open another six months.)
There’s been a lot of pixels— and even some ink— dedicated to Blockbuster in light of this news. It’s being heralded as the end of the era of the video store. An era that realistically ended quite a few years ago, but it makes for a nice demarcator if nothing else. I probably would have called the time of death in 1999 when Brad Pitt and Edward Norton deleted all the VHS tapes in Fight Club, but I have a tendency of declaring things dead before they actually die.
Blockbuster nostalgia is in full swing right now. Folks are reminiscing about the good ol’ days. As folks will do. Not me, though. I have no nostalgia for Blockbuster. And I’m a nostalgic motherfucker. I get teary-eyed thinking about breakfast this morning. But even before I became the hipster I am today, I knew Blockbuster wasn’t cool. Kid Pat was no corporate shill. I was a Karner Video kid. (I would link to Karner Video’s Geocities page here, but it appears to be down at the moment.)
Growing up, Karner Video was the nearest video store to the Rafferty Residence. Technically the closest may have actually been Echo Video in Altamont, but technically Echo Video was just the first floor of some guy’s house (his name was “Phil”), so we’re gonna go with Karner Video on this one.
But I don’t even miss Karner Video, really. No, the video store I miss the most wasn’t a video store at all, it was the gas station a mile from my house.
Perhaps this was an upstate New York thing (it was definitely an upstate New York thing), but it was not uncommon for the corner gas station to have little wall of videos you could rent. You go in, you pay for gas, you rent Short Circuit. This was a thing.
The gas station near even had Nintendo games. My first exposure to The Legend of Zelda was a copy we rented from that gas station. (I don’t know how much they were charging per day, but whatever it was, it quickly became apparent to my mom that we she could save money just buying a copy of Zelda.)
Technically the gas station was a Getty station, but like the mom and pop Blockbusters of today, Getty’s corporate office wasn’t exactly calling the shots. The wall of VHS and Nintendo games were not a company mandate.
And I think that’s why I miss it. It wasn’t the wall of rentals, it was what the wall of rentals represented, the personal touch. I’m a sucker for “employee picks” at video stores or book stores. I eat that shit up. And the random selection of a couple dozen games and videos at that Getty station was the result of someone’s curation. Someone’s terrible terrible curation (Zelda aside, of course), but curation nonetheless.
Netflix’s recommendation engine is almost certainly better than at finding something you’d enjoy than the despondent clerk at the Blockbuster (or the Karner Video) (or “Phil”), but it’s a bit cold.
“You like Buffy? Here, watch Angel. All of it. Shut up.”
And yes, the entire notion of going somewhere to pick a physical object containing a movie or a video game up off a shelf and bring it to a clerk is brutally inefficient at this point, but there’s something comforting about the whole process. (Unless you’re renting porn from Phil, of course… then it’s discomforting.)
This isn’t nostalgia. I know nostalgia, we tight.
The end of Blockbuster doesn’t signify the end of the video store so much as it hammers a(nother) nail in the coffin of the human element in our everyday interactions.
There’s a little plastic box full of index cards that hasn’t been touched in years in the back room of that Getty station in Guilderland, New York. One of those index cards has my name (or possibly my mother’s) handwritten on it, along with a record of everything I (she) rented there.
I’d say that I would like to see that card, but I can’t remember if I ever returned Short Circuit and I’m of what the late fees might be at this point.
But just knowing that card (probably) exists warms my icy cold heart. It wasn’t a better time, but it was a bit warmer than this robot-run future we’ve found ourselves in.