Blockbuster is the video store that killed video stores. Granted, they were on limited time anyway as Netflix and Redbox would eventually change home viewing. Instead of human beings at mom and pop stores, who have gotten to know us and our tastes, we have algorithms to make viewing suggestions to us. Its a brave new world a little less personal and easier to sink away from entirely.The video store was once a hub, a gathering place of movie geeks that could be just as sacred to us as comic book stores were and are. Blockbuster killed that. But now, Blockbuster is dead and may it burn in Hell for all eternity.
Video stores were often local or regional businesses. You couldn’t find a certain chain outside of a certain area. In my area in central North Carolina during the early 90’s, we had maybe four different chains each with multiple locations. Each location and chain would have different niche selections than others. What this meant was, that you could go from store to store looking for something like Suspiria until you found a copy. It was kind of a pain in the ass, but this was before online streaming, Netflix and Bit Torrent. You had to track down a physical copy of the VHS that you wanted. It was a pain in the ass, but it was also something of an adventure. When you found that rare title, there was a joy and sense of minor accomplishment. The movie was instantly more special because you had to go through so much effort to find it. This was the shit that movie geeks lived for.
Those video stores were also where films like The Beyond and Cannibal Holocaust became nearly mythical. Any copy of the video nasties was almost a sacred object. You would hear about these films from other movie geeks, who were often working behind the counter of the local rental store. These were people who loved movies, who worked in a low paying job because sitting around and talking about movies all day was their idea of heaven.
There was a guy who worked at the local Carbonated Video, about a fifteen minute walk from my house. I can’t remember his name because it seems like so long ago. But I remember that he had long hair and was a really cool guy. It was January of 1998, my father was dying of cancer and didn’t have long to live. His last favorite movie was Slingblade.
My mother went in to buy a copy, but it wasn’t on sale yet, only for rent. She told him that her husband didn’t have long and she hoped to get him a copy of the movie while he could still enjoy it. But it wasn’t on sale and wouldn’t be for several weeks. By then, it would already be too late. The guy walked over to the new releases section, grabbed a copy off the shelf and brought it over. “It is now,” he said.
This is the kind of thing that doesn’t exist anymore. The world is now filled with people who can do nothing, because some executives somewhere demand absolute compliance with policy. This is the disease that Blockbuster brought with it. The above story is what Blockbuster took away from the world.
Gone were personable film buffs behind the counter. Gone were the small moments of humanity that bind us together. Gone were the little niche titles and the sense of discovery. Gone were the mom and pop video stores that treated its customers like people. Blockbuster came in and took that away by putting everyone out of business. They catered to the lowest common denominator, treated their customers like garbage, refused to stock challenging and controversial films, turned their workers into mindless drones and took every opportunity to screw over their own customers for nickel and dime bullshit.
They opened multiple stores in towns regardless if they were needed or not, just to choke out all of the competition. They strangled, beat and pummeled all of the mom and pop and regional video store chains into closing. They got a monopoly on the video rental business for a few years and no doubt were popping the champagne and feeling good about themselves. They continued to treat their customers like shit, who began to miss the mom and pop stores that they forsake just so they could rent the new releases and didn’t have to risk picking out another, maybe more challenging film. The return policies were asinine, they constantly changed prices sometimes from week to week. They constantly changed policies sometimes week to week. People were getting fed up, but there was no alternative. Blockbuster was the only game in town.
Then Netflix arrived. Blockbuster had sown the seeds of its demise. By killing the local and regional video businesses, there was no net to catch the market. Blockbuster could have slipped into more of a boutique styled store, and while not enjoying the few years of sweet success it did, would have survived reasonably well. The local and regional businesses could have adapted to Netflix. They could have survived Netflix. Blockbuster could not. It stubbornly refused to. Now here was a service that customers actually enjoyed. That worked.
Now this was before streaming, when the majority of Netflix users were getting DVDs in the mail. One of the reasons why everyone jumped on Netflix was because they didn’t want to deal with Blockbuster. People hated Blockbuster. If the local and regional businesses were intact throughout the country, Netflix would certainly have had the early success that it did, but not to the extent that it did. After all, you still had to wait for the DVD in the mail, instead of just driving down to the local rental store and grabbing a copy that night.
Blockbuster would have survived because the other regional and local businesses would have helped sustain the market in the early days of the Netflix revolution. They would have had time to restructure themselves as more of a specialty shop connected with the local community. Streaming was coming and Netflix streaming would have overtaken the market regardless of the existence or non-existence of the mom and pop stores. But it wouldn’t have been the massacre and complete humiliation that Blockbuster suffered at the hands of Netflix. They wouldn’t have become a running gag or a forgotten relic so quickly. The fact is, Blockbuster never had a chance, its death was inevitable.
By killing a healthy and vibrant market to become a monopoly, the video store industry lost any resilience it might have had. It would have eventually faded away as all things do. Nothing lasts forever. But Blockbuster killed that possibility when the home video market was in its prime. Now all we have left is Netflix and buying DVDs and Blu-Rays off of Amazon. Netflix’s streaming service allows for home viewers to take a chance on viewing smaller and more challenging films, but that sense of discovery is muted. Like all of our technology, it makes everything more convenient and better, but also slowly mutes what made everything special in the first place.
So now Suncoast is dead. My local Best Buy has all but given up on selling DVDs and Blu-Rays, pushing them into a corner in favor a lot of floor space for cellphones. Yup, Best Buy has turned into Radioshack.
Carbonate Video was an amazing place. Its where I developed my taste in movies and expanded my genre interests. Blockbuster killed it. Along with Video Plaza and all the others across the country. So today, after the death of Blockbuster, I curse its name but also mourn the video rental store. For those too young to even know what the inside of one looked like, it was more amazing than you can possibly imagine.