We use the term “blockbuster” to describe a movie, book, or other product that has commercial success. Back in the 1940s, it described a big bomb dropped from a plane that was capable of destroying a whole block of streets. Somewhere in between the big commercial success and a bomb is the company known as Blockbuster Video.
Blockbuster was an American provider of home movie and video game rental services through video rental shops. They eventually moved, less successfully, to DVD-by-mail, streaming, video on demand, and cinema theater. Does that remind you of another company? Netflix?
Blockbuster was internationally known throughout the 1990s and at its 2004 peak, the company employed 84,300 people worldwide and had 9,094 stores (4500 in the US).
The last three American stores were in Bend, Oregon and two in Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska. The Alaska stores closed earlier this year, so the Oregon store got a lot of media attention as the “end of an era.”
The store still looks much like the ones from 20 years ago – all yellow inside, employees in blue shirts and an old computer system. But it still stocks old and new titles. The store still has licensing agreements and leases, and as of now has no plans on closing.
The Alaskan stores kind of made sense. I imagine folks watching movies during those long winter nights and not having cheap Internet. In 2013, there were 13 stores in Alaska.
My own local Blockbuster was in a strip mall. We had two other mom-and-pop video stores locally but they fell to Blockbuster. I have semi-fond memories of walking the aisles with my sons looking for a film that was appropriate and discouraging them from renting film again. “Let’s get something new. Or classic.”
Redbox and other video-on-demand services arrived and I guess people decided they didn’t want to leave their couch to get a movie. In the way that Amazon got people buying books from their couch and killed off many bookstores, Netflix did the same for movies.
I like browsing in person. I find books walking the aisles of a bookstore or library that I would never think to click or search for online. And even with AI, Amazon doesn’t usually find things I am interested in or great accidental discoveries.
Blockbuster declared bankruptcy in 2010. I didn’t know that the remaining 1,700 stores were bought by Dish Network in 2011.
I hope browsing in stores remains. I accept that the movie store is gone, but I encourage people to walk around their bookstore, hardware store and all small, local stores. Make discoveries.