The days of the brick and mortar rental shops are for the most part dead and buried. There are a handful of places still in existence both coorporate (Family Video) or independent (Mr. Movies), but for the most part it’s over. I think it’s time to talk about how these places shaped me for better or worse. After the nostalgia is over I’ll talk about the last trip I took to an actual Blockbuster.
It’s funny to think that the town I grew up in didn’t have a rental store specifically, we had three locations for renting. The grocery store, the gas station, and the library. Talk about an odd trio. But it was through them that I found movies that I grew to treasure. The first time I ever saw the Star Wars trilogy was from video tapes from the library. Going to the grocery store was a necessity when I wanted to see new releases. It’s funny to think that saving up three dollars so I could watch a movie I wanted to watch seemed like such an accomplishment. I think the funniest story I can remember is when my brother rented Gattaca and L.A. Confidential from the town gas station. What was suppose to be a single day turned into a few days. That turned into a few weeks. Around a month later my brother got a call. One of the cashiers noticed these films were still out of stock and told him that if he just returned them they wouldn’t charge any late fees. They got returned right after that phone call.
A few years later when I was old enough I’d drive to a town 20 miles away where they had an actual movie rental store. Videoland was my introduction to a real video store. Strolling the aisles of movies I saw some of the most interesting and weird titles I could imagine. This was also my introduction to the direct to video market. In the horror section I’d see titles like Pinocchio’s Revenge and Jack Frost: Attack of the Mutant Killer Snowman and wonder how these made it to the big screen. Turns out they didn’t. It was also my introduction to the world of independent cinema. Films like Memento and The Shape of Things were found on these shelves and are now in my personal collection. I even remember asking cashiers about getting promotional posters and I’d actually get them.
When I got to college the worm was starting to turn. Netflix was gaining traction and pretty much every rental store was trying to keep up. I was renting from a Movie Gallery at the time and I’ve got to hand it to them for trying to keep things going. While VHS had been dead and buried for years they had a pretty impressive selection of catalog titles and foreign films. They even kept up when The Weinstein Company tried to go exclusive with Blockbuster with their rental release. This store went out and bought copies at retail stores so you could rent them.
It was around this time that I finally got a Netflix account and began renting via their disc program. The convenience outweighed the wait time for some of the titles. I no longer had to deal with overdue fees and was ecstatic at that prospect. Once I got my PS3 Netflix Instant went from an extra feature to a centerpiece. No longer forced to watch on my laptop this ushered in a plethora untapped potential. So much entertainment was now only a few buttons away. And now it’s become so second nature for us to get home after work and turn on Netflix for entertainment.
Here’s the last leg of this trip. We’ve officially come full circle and now I’ll talk about going into Blockbuster yesterday as it was having it’s liquidation sale. Walking in it no longer even felt like a rental store. It was more like an elephant graveyard for DVDs and Blu-rays. The first thing I noticed was that the employee behind the counter didn’t even have a chair to sit on. He was sitting on a mud bucket hunched over in his own world. I heard X-Men playing and looked up to see it on the display TVs which were old tube televisions. I could not believe my eyes that there were still functioning tube TVs. I first went to the blu-ray section and sifted through the stock. I grabbed a copy of the Evil Dead remake and looked through the rest of the aisles. Much of what was left looked like it was stuff that has sat on these shelves for years only got rented out of morbid curiosity or based on a dare. I glanced up to see what the other customers were doing. One gentleman had a stack of movies in his hand. Suddenly I wondered if we were just vultures picking at a rotting carcass. I suddenly no longer had any desire to be in this building and had to leave.
Going up to the counter the employee obviously had hit the point where caring was no longer an option. I asked him if I could look at the disc I was purchasing before I paid for it. He wasn’t too happy about that. When I cracked the case open and looked at the blu-ray I saw scratches everywhere. I told the employee that I was going to grab a different copy. He told me that it was a blu-ray as if that meant that no matter what this disc would play in spite of all these gashes. When I went back to grab a different copy I saw him spray the disc with Windex and wipe it down with toilet paper. As a film collector that was a horrifying sight. As I paid I asked if they had any merchandise with the Blockbuster logo available. He curtly replied no and with that I was out the door.
So there you have it. The end of an era and will I miss it? I’ll miss independent movie rental stores, but not the major franchises. So goodbye Blockbuster, I can not say that I will miss you in the least. What are your thoughts? Do you miss any of the long lost rental stores? Are you happy that streaming has pretty much made these places obsolete?