Blockbuster is closing its remaining 300 brick and mortar stores, marking the end of a phenomenal era. In a short film I directed some years back, one of the scenes included the main protagonist engaged in a job hunting montage. One of the businesses he approaches in the sequence is a video rental store. In the scene the owner of the business breaks down in hysterical laughter when he’s handed a resume, and after catching his breath, he says “Ever since Netflix came around there just hasn’t been much work for a video store clerk”. This was before Netflix launched their enormously popular “Instant” subscription and before Hulu took off – but Netflix had long been making its mark on the home video market and Blockbuster, along with other retail outlets, were already on the fritz. Randal Graves, the fictitious proponent of the home video store environment, from the film Clerks (as depicted in the featured image), would likely break down in tears if her heard the latest Blockbuster news.
From 2004 through 2006 I worked for the Virgin Entertainment Group’s Retail Division, coordinating inventory for the New York stores. Not a week went by in those few years I was employed with them that my fellow staffers weren’t talking about rival chains going out of business and closing up stores. Virgin did good regardless and didn’t really close because of low sales – it was entirely political. However, the inevitable had always loomed and when Tower finally left town it became clear that the western world was changing. If the end of an era came a few years ago with the closing of Tower Records, Virgin Megastores and the depletion of home video rental outlets, then certainly the final closings of the last remaining Blockbuster stores are the proverbial nail in the coffin.
For the kids who might not realize it and can’t gauge the enormity of this landmark event, there’s no other way to say it: Blockbuster was HUGE. I grew up in a town without a Blockbuster and to rent a movie I had to take a 45 minute ferry ride to the nearest city and rent from a locally owned hole-in-the-wall joint. Even with this being the case, I knew the company well and had always been aware of how enormous they were. For a brief period of time I can recall my peers using the word “Blockbuster” to refer to their local videostore, even though it wasn’t a Blockbuster store at all. They were the Band-Aid to a generic adhesive bandage.
I ended up acquiring my first and brief Blockbuster subscription after I moved to New York in the fall of 2003. It was like getting my first library card; suddenly I had access and life just seemed better because of it. My account didn’t last long, that branch went out of business a few months later and even though I moved around the city quite bit in my early years living here, I had never again managed to land in a neighborhood with an operational branch.
My girl and I subscribed to Netflix in 2008 and while the delays in the mail and the occasional loss of a DVD while it’s in transit back to the warehouse can be irritating from time to time, we haven’t really looked back. While Blockbuster gave a lot of people immediate access to their favorite movies, the system Netflix has in place is certainly more efficient and cost effective for both the business and the customer and just as importantly allows for a larger variation of titles. As I wrote in other articles here and for other websites: innovation is key to longevity. The brick and mortar stores may not be necessary anymore, but that doesn’t mean Blockbuster has to dissolve into oblivion. They have, after all, established an online presence in an effort to compete with Netflix. It’s not a bad place to start, but now the key is to think outside of the box. It’s just a question of whether or not the people over at Blockbuster actually want to.