In the 1980s you could rent a video just about anywhere.
Sure, some of the family-owned places were at the corners and even the seedier joints could be found if you looked hard enough. I even remember our friends at QuikTrip getting into the video-rental game for a while.
But no one did it like Blockbuster.
Launched in the late 80s, Blockbuster quickly became the gold standard. By the early 90s, Blockbuster was gobbling up competitor chains left and right, the company was launching Blockbuster Music and, at its heyday, the video giant had 4,000 stores nationwide and more than 2,500 around the globe.
And, no matter what occasion or time of day, going to Blockbuster was an event.
We had one open up just down the road from our neighborhood in 1988 or 1989. It was simply thrilling.
Walls and walls of movies, access to classics that those of us growing up without cable TV would never get to watch, candy, popcorn, soda pop…and even before most of us could drive, we had our own Blockbuster card.
That in itself was just cool.
Everything was on VHS back then and you had to handle those tapes like a freshly delivered pizza – gently opening the box and cautious to not tilt it too much or drop it on the ground.
The familiar blue and gold pattern always reminded us to “Be Kind, Rewind!” lest we get hit with some lame 50 cent “rewinding” fee when we returned the movie.
Oh, and that was the other challenge – getting the movie back to the store.
Before video rentals became like Thunderdome, there were a few rules – namely returning that two- or three-day rental back in time before the late charges hit you worse than the librarian ever would.
Going to Blockbuster on a Friday or Saturday night was a social scene. For many of us, it was a part of pop culture we couldn’t imagine would slowly filter away.
As online and mailed movie rentals began to flood the marketplace, though, Blockbuster didn’t seem poised to keep up.
In 2000, its decision makers opted out of a buyout offer for a little one-year-old company called Netflix – at a bargain rate of $50 million.
In 2004, Blockbuster launched its own by-mail program. But by then, they were losing badly in the market. In the fall of 2010, Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy; in early 2011, they were bought by Dish Network and the barrage of store closings began in haste.
I became a Blockbuster-by-mail customer when I moved to Iowa in 2006. That wonderful service allowed me to watch the entire Sopranos series and just about anything else I needed to transition to moving to Iowa.
I felt some sort of weird loyalty to Blockbuster still, having never even considered signing up for Netflix. Maybe it was all those good memories of wandering the fluorescent-filled aisles of Blockbuster all those years that kept me going.
Now, Blockbuster’s days are numbered. The whole thing is ending in December and all stores will be closed after the New Year.
Their 1990s slogan seems appropriate now as they lock the doors, “Wow, what a difference!”
I guess I’m calling Netflix. It’s probably time to watch The Sopranos again.