About 20 years ago, Jay Leno joked on The Tonight Show about a mooted idea for a national identity card. “We already have one,” he said. “It says ‘Blockbuster Video’ on it.” That joke has not been current for some years now (for that matter, Jay Leno hasn’t been current for some years now, either), as the company had seen its business of brick-and-mortar video rental stores fall victim to Netflix, Redbox, and its own inability to adapt to changing technologies. No one, then, was surprised today when the chain, which was based in Dallas in the late 1990s and early 2000s, announced it was shutting down for good, closing all its remaining stores and endings its DVD-by-mail service in early January.
If you’re like me, this means cheap DVDs for sale between now and the end of the year. (Actually, why am I blogging about this?) But also if you’re like me, you grew up on these stores. They let you bring the best selection of movies to your home for half the price of a movie ticket, and that was worth the hassles of having to return video cassettes (the DVDs came later) in the wee hours of the night to avoid late fees, or remembering to rewind the tape before returning it. There was a store in northwest Phoenix that I frequented so much, I joked that they should have built a statue of me outside. That store closed many, many years ago. When I first came to Fort Worth, one of the first films I rented from the Blockbuster on Berry Street (still around at the moment) was Jacques Demy’s 1967 French musical The Young Girls of Rochefort. Where else was I going to get something like that? Much like Christopher Moltisanti from The Sopranos, I wound up getting high off the stores’ candy and carpet smell. I’m not the only one, either. The chain was dominant enough to dictate to the movie studios, and it had enough customers to give credence to that Jay Leno joke.
Well, it’s a new world now, and there are many other ways to get films both famous and obscure. Blockbuster killed off many independent mom-and-pop video stores in its time, but amazingly, a few of them are still around. In the meantime, let’s bid farewell to the blue stores with the new releases lining the walls. They had a good run for a while.