Peace Out, Blockbuster; Karma's a Bitch

When DISH president Joseph P. Clayton announced last week that the once video rental giant, Blockbuster, would be closing its doors for serious, no one was all that surprised. As it is, the company, which went bankrupt in 2010, was purchased by DISH Network in 2011 and immediately started shutting down branches throughout the past two years. People on the Internet seem more surprised to hear that the company has even been in existence these three years. But alas, as of January 2014, Blockbuster will close its few remaining brick and mortar locations, and as of December the company's mail subscription service will terminate.

I have to be perfectly honest; this news does not upset me in the least. My relationship with Blockbuster has always been resistive.

Of all the expenses that a family could tackle, vacations, matching furniture sets, occasionally food, my father always opted for electronics. Being the movie buff that he was, he was an early adopter of the VCR. I recall some outlandish financial amount that he paid for our first VCR that probably took the place of new clothing or school trips, but no matter, we were one of the first on our block to have this amazing device. Time spent with my father mostly included going to the video store, picking out movies and watching them - talking was rarely involved.

The video store in my neighborhood was a little hole in the wall, which we never called by name but only by the name of the owner, Danny. The walls were covered with movie posters and cardboard cutouts of classic characters. My sisters and I would spend hours in the store as my dad chatted away with his buddies who ran the joint. I have embedded in my brain VHS covers, most of which I found to be rather dirty for my very young eyes. Porky's, Lady in Red, Nine and ½ Weeks and Perfect 10, stand out in my mind. I loved these weekly excursions.

My family moved early in my high school career, and I found another mom and pop video store to take the place of Eddy's. This video store would become my place of employment for some time. I wish for the life of me I could remember the name of it (I can't because I'm old), "Video" somethingorother, but it was a lovely little rental place. It was known for its wacky selection; titles you could get here you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else. The owner was a bit of a hard-ass, but he loved movies, and so I felt like we had something in common. Eventually, my sister started working with me and after a time, I moved on to a higher-paying job at Barnes and Noble. Sarah, my sister, continued to work at the video store for some time.

This was the mid-'90s and at the time Blockbuster video was just starting to have a foothold in the rental business. But its progression didn't take very long, and within months, it seemed, Blockbuster had taken over all of the small video stores in my town, in the country! "Video somethingorother" was not spared, nor was Danny's place, as I found out later when returning to my childhood home.

You know that scene in the movie What's Eating Gilbert Grape, where Gilbert has to go pick up a cake for Arnie's birthday and he is forced to go to the big, fancy-pants "Foodland" supermarket despite working at the little corner grocery store... and then he gets caught doing it? I felt just like that, this overwhelming sense of guilt and embarrassment, every time I walked through the doors of a Blockbuster video, but I still did it; I had to! There was nowhere else to go.

And let's be real, Blockbuster, despite being conveniently open late and selling microwavable popcorn and Red Vines at the check-out line, genuinely sucked. Despite its dominance in the marketplace, it took years before the company was able to track customers from one location to the next, meaning you had to have multiple memberships if you Blockbuster-hopped. Because of this lack of tracking system, I had accounts opened in just about every Blockbuster from Connecticut to New York. Furthermore, because of that, I owed money to every Blockbuster from Connecticut to New York to the point that Blockbuster put a lien on my credit. Yes! I have bad credit because of Blockbuster and probably some shitty rental like Sweet Home Alabama.

Unlike those mom and pops, Blockbuster employees didn't want to chat with you about the Criterion Collection; for the most part they were kids who couldn't care less about film but liked discounts on video games. Unless you were there every day of your life, they didn't know your name, they couldn't recommend movies that you liked and it wouldn't matter anyway because their shelves were bursting with 100 copies of the same recent released Madea movie.

When they first started closing doors, I went to the Blockbuster over on Main Street in the Heights, which is one of the last holdouts that I'm aware of, and bought a bunch of used DVDs for cheap. They are all scratched; I didn't bother to return them.

With any large business expansion, there are risks involved. Blockbuster, just like the mega bookstores of the '90s and Clear Channel and TLC, got too big too quickly, and it hurt the little guy (TLC didn't hurt anyone but themselves).

I wish I was sad that they are headed toward extinction, but I'm just not.

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