If there was ever as stunning a fall for a retail giant as Blockbuster, I can’t recall. At one time there was a store on every corner, it seemed like.
My first remembrance of a video store was not a Blockbuster. My dad was always on the cutting edge of technology, and had one of the first VCRs ever made. The thing was actually made of two pieces, and together had to weigh at least 50 pounds. I’m pretty sure the remote control was attached via a wire. (I do have to give my dad credit for picking the ‘right’ technology, as I’m reasonably sure there was still the VHS vs. BetaMax issue which had not fully resolved by that point). Still, my dad joined a local store, though it was one of many that lasted but a few years following the later proliferation of Blockbuster and other chain video stores.
I was never a fan of Blockbuster for a variety of reasons.
- Late Fees – It always seemed like no matter how you tried to stay on top of watching your videos, you would find yourself seeing one and realizing that either the due date had already passed or you had 20 minutes to get that thing back to the store.
- Rewind fees – I understand the logic behind not wanting all of their videos returned without having been rewound, but I always thought that this was petty.
- Availability – No matter what movie you wanted, they seemed to be out of it. Later on, I think they had guaranteed availability for new releases, but back in the earlier days, any new release was out of stock. You could put your name on hold in case it ‘came back in’, but either it never did during the time where I wanted to watch the movie, or the phone just after I’d gotten into another movie.
- The last straw – I put up with all of these things, but one experience swore me off from ever using Blockbuster again, a promise I was mostly able to keep. It was probably around 2002 or 2003 when I was still using Blockbuster, and I returned a few videos. Later that night I went to watch something of mine, and realized there was something in the machine. Sure enough, it was a video from the store. But I’d returned the videos, right? Well, it didn’t take long to figure out that I’d stuck one of my movies in the case and returned it. The reason this happened is because the movie I returned was one I’d bought as a ‘Previously Viewed’ copy, so it still had a Blockbuster sticker. Though I can’t remember either movie, I remember that the movie I accidentally returned was one I liked, whereas the one I kept on accident was a real stinker. I immediately drove the store and explained what happened. Without even checking, they said that they ‘could not find’ my movie. My guess is they probably repackaged it and sold it again. And they were going to charge me late fees on the video I’d kept. This was a double whammy that I was not going to take. I knew that the credit card info that they’d taken when I signed up was no longer valid, as I’d closed the account. I was so mad that I walked out, with their movie, and never returned to that store. I was half expecting that they’d somehow try to track me down, but they never did. I just knew that store would always have me on record, and they probably did until they closed.
For the record, I went to another local shop that had recently opened. I knew the place was doomed, as the decline of video stores had already begun, but I did get a few months out of them while I transitioned away from videos and to this new thing I’d heard about called ‘Netflix’.
Also, in fairness, I did rent from Blockbuster exactly one other time. I did a temporary assignment down in Florida, and had some friends visit. We got it in our heads to watch a particular movie (again, I have no idea what it was), but the only video store within 20 miles was Blockbuster. So I relented and signed up, renting just that video.
It was surprising at how quickly things went south for Blockbuster. They refused to believe that Netflix was a serious threat, and I believe that they simply thought that since they’d dominated the market and forced out so many, that they were entitled to their spot on top.
And so with that, I say, so long, Blockbuster. I sure won’t miss you!