As was announced earlier this week, the last remaining 300 Blockbuster stores around the nation will officially be closed, and the end of the video store rental era will have concluded completely. Obviously this has been a long time coming. Blockbuster has been on the ropes, and then virtually nonexistent for the past 4-5 years in the public consciousness. The advent of Redbox and the massive growth and popularity of services like Netflix and Hulu pretty much, in a matter of months after their creation, killed it.
And yet even two weeks ago, when I was back in my hometown, I noticed that my original Blockbuster, right on the dilapidated corner unit in a rundown, mostly-forgotten strip mall in Dallas, was still running strong. I walked through those doors on a Friday night and the place was packed. Hoards of kids rushing down the aisles looking through a vast supply of movies to pick and choose from, parents and older folks buying the pre-bundled packages of microwave popcorn and Sour Patch Kids at the checkout counter, and me somewhere there in the middle of it all, just in awe that this sort of atmosphere still existed, like it had been preserved in a time warp.
I joke, as I’m sure we all do, about how irrelevant Blockbuster quickly became in the age of on-demand entertainment. I scoffed at the fact that in an age of 99-cent Redbox rentals they were still trying to sell people on a $5 3-day rental. I rolled my eyes at the employees of the university’s local Blockbuster my freshman year of college, 6 years ago, talking about the staying power of the huge company. The writing, to me, seemed to be all over the wall. And much like Allen Iverson’s recent “retirement” from the NBA, I’m sure most of us all thought the video rental titan was already gone entirely.
And yet, again, two weeks ago I went and found a nugget from the past, seemingly suspended in the world of 2002 or 2003, in this still-open hometown Blockbuster. To be honest, the nostalgia moved me. The excitement and anticipation of childhood VHS tape-watching. The reminder of the aching pain and mystery of never quite knowing what you were going to find in the store, or what the newest release each Tuesday would be the following Friday. Blockbuster, like many things for all of us, represents my childhood. A simpler and more magical, mysterious phase of life. A vestige of the ’90s. A ridiculous monopoly of their own industry we’d be hard-pressed to defend in this day-and-age. And, perhaps most-importantly, a marker of a time that’s been all-but-forgotten, discarded and never adequately replaced.
So when the news came this week that the rental giant was finally shutting the rest of their remaining 300 doors for good, I couldn’t help but feel as if I’d lost something dear that I never fully appreciated. The world of having to go out and get something if you wanted to see it, and not just binge-consuming limitless content pushed at you by TV or the internet. The anticipation and excitement behind a “movie night” with your friends. The alluring fluorescent glow of their rectangular blue-and-yellow logo outside the store. The line you had to wait in. The rush to get the last copy of the latest release, or find that old, lost copy of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or the 1989 live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, and the satisfaction of getting what you wanted and seeing it with others.
Blockbuster, with all of it’s inefficiencies, lines, bloated rental charges and markups, created something special and irreplaceable: ceremony. The waiting, the fighting over hard-copies of new releases with complete strangers, the selection of a movie based entirely on a box cover, the purchasing, the viewing, and the returning. A sense of fanfare behind an otherwise mundane task that created, for all of its ridiculousness, a communal ritual to renting itself. It’s an experience I hope I don’t soon forget, because I don’t think we’ll ever get to enjoy it again. It really is true, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
No longer can we be kind and rewind. The end of the era is here. So long, Blockbuster. I loved you.