The last 300 stores owned by rental chain Blockbuster in the U.S. will be closed by January. If the news was as a surprise, it's only that so many were left. It leaves you with a weird nostalgia—hard to get worked up about a once-monolithic corporation, but still dewy-eyed recalling a trip to bring home GoldenEye.
Blockbuster isn't even a company unto itself anymore, it's a brand owned by DISH Network, which acquired Blockbuster out of bankruptcy in 2011. DISH today said it was closing down everything except Blockbuster's movies-on-demand presence on its satellite service. Some 50 franchised stores will remain open but, ironically, like the mom-and-pop video stores crushed by Blockbuster's rise, these can't stand much longer against the tide of digital distribution and kiosk rentals.
I rarely used Blockbuster. Video game consoles had been around throughout my childhood, but these were high-cost, high-risk, low-margin items compared to VHS tapes. A broad-shouldered company like Blockbuster made renting games a viable and relevant option to game culture starting around the 16-bit era. Blockbuster's heydey came when movies and games came on bulky, plastic, very hard-to-mail media like cartridges and VHS cassettes. When these things started moving to discs, and discs started getting easier to mail, the inevitable decline set in. Blockbuster today, despite the nostalgia, is more of a punchline, or a case study of corporate dinosaurhood.
But while it lasted, it was fun. Nothing said Friday night like riding over to one of its ubiquitous strip-mall locations with your best friend and taking forever to pick out a movie, or asking the clerk to look if Donkey Kong Country 2 might be laying in the return stack, not yet checked back in.
My memories of Blockbuster are more limited. It was the title sponsor of a crappy college bowl game from 1990 to 1993 (replaced by the even crappier Carquest Bowl.) I was astonished to find I still had a card issued by the store on El Camino Real in San Mateo, Calif. I rented LEGO Batman to test out region locking on that NTSC:J PlayStation 3 that my old employer had bought as a sweepstakes giveaway. Later, in Springfield, Ore., I'd go to the one up on Q Street, beside the Little Caesars which always had the weird guy on a bicycle holding up a sign for the 2-for-1 deal. I used Blockbuster mostly to pick up some out-of-date sports title to test or verify a feature in it, until that store closed. By 2011, if I was renting discs, they were coming out of a RedBox kiosk.
Many took to Twitter this afternoon to pay their highly personal respects, some funny, some poignant. After so many Blockbuster nights, its days have come to an end.
Image by Associated Press.