For me, it was the smell. An amalgamation of Milk Duds, buttery popcorn, and hard-shell plastic would rush through my nose the moment I opened the glass door. It was the smell of nostalgia long before I was old enough to be nostalgic. It reminded me that movies were comfort, and comfort was home.
In light of the recent release of The Last Blockbuster (2020) on Prime Video, I figured I would revisit a post I wrote on my days working at this obsolete wonder and the weekend I spent in Bend, Oregon with my wife, visiting…
the last Blockbuster.
Back when Blockbuster was just a left turn out of your neighborhood, renting a movie was a priceless, tangible experience. You could walk around the New Release wall with your date, gather all the yellow and blue DVD boxes you could carry, choose two, and then run into your friends at the checkout line. The experience made the rentable movie more remarkable as it took a journey to find it, purchase it, transport it, watch it at home (rewind it pre-’99), and then transport it back into the drop box to avoid a late fee.
During the summer and winter breaks of 1999 to 2001, I was a Customer Service Representative (CSR), Assistant Manager, and Manager at four different Blockbuster Video stores around the Littleton, Colorado area. During the second half of 1999 (The Year It All Started), new release titles were being shipped 50% VHS and 50% DVD. The infamous rewind machines started to collect dust in the back room while customers would always say, “I guess I should buy a DVD player then.”
The card membership process took 15 minutes and required three pieces of identification, landline calls to people who were four days late on their return were standard procedure, and inventory checks with scan guns occurred from 11pm to 2am once a month.
These were good days – days of innocence and entertainment that you earned.
Obviously, accessing entertainment online from and in the comfort of your own home will continue to be our future, and I am just as much a part of it as most American movie consumers. However, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and many others simply take the “go” out of moviegoer, and with that – an experience.
I miss it, but I’m lucky to have a wife who supports my nerdy movie-watching/writing passions. For my 40th birthday, she took me to Bend, Oregon where the only Blockbuster Video in the nation resided. I opened the glass door, and… well, read the first sentence of this blog. At the time, the three remaining stores in Australia closed down, leaving Mr. Bend the last store in the world. (AP New Story)
As friends, family, and students still heckle me for making this trip, I’d say it was one of the best vacations of my life.
Owner, Sandi Harding, isn’t going anywhere. She is maintaining not only the only Blockbuster trademarked movie rental store in the world, she is also sustaining pure nostalgic joy for geeks like myself.
The yellow and blue-garbed employees were congenial and well aware they were going to blab about the good ole days more than check out a movie. Registering for my Blockbuster card took 30 seconds, and it was more a memento than a membership, and I was just fine with that. Sandi can no longer go to corporate in Houston to import Blockbuster signage, marquee listings, or even the paper linings that go in the DVD boxes, so she goes to an independent manufacturer. It does the job.
My wife and I purchased a bunch of bumper stickers, candy, and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, and we rented the sweet, dependable spiritual rom-com, Michael, which she hadn’t seen yet. We watched it at the hotel and returned it in the drop box the next day. It’ll be another 890 miles to do this all over again, but as I sit on this couch with nothing intriguing on Netflix, I think it would be worth it.
Movies are comfort, and comfort is home, but the experience of renting a movie at Blockbuster will remain invaluable to me.
I’m just grateful I have an endearing story to tell my future grandchildren, even though they will probably roll their eyes and ask me to move while they flip through the Netflix menu.