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April 28, 2011

Death of the Video Store

I feel like it's time to eulogize an institution. When I was a kid, my aunt Mary got us our first VCR. I remember watching Ghostbusters on Christmas Day. I don't really remember the year, but it was somewhere in the 1980s. We signed up for a membership at a place called Video Sun on Cicero Avenue just south of Fullerton. The man that owned it was really nice, and so was the woman that worked there part time. They recognized us, because we were there pretty often. They were always great about holding movies for us, and we were loyal customers for years. But then...

A new store opened up down the road. They kept several copies of new releases. They rented video games. We had to go check it out. It was called Blockbuster. Before that, Video Sun was growing. They went from a tiny space to a bigger location down the block. Unfortunately, Blockbuster was about to eat up their business, and before long, Video Sun was gone. So were many other mom and pop video stores. They couldn't carry the volume, and they just couldn't keep up.

We rented at Video Sun until the end, but not exclusively. Blockbuster did get some of our money. Blockbuster destroyed the independent video store with the help of Movie Gallery, West Coast Video and Hollywood Video. All but Blockbuster are gone, and it was apparently so bad for Hollywood that they have a collection agency hunting people down for late fees. So, what happened? Like it is with everything else, technology leaves the mangled carcasses of the video rental business in its tracks.

Some can look at the bit torrent sites as part of the demise, but I really don't think that many people use that route these days. People get sued for downloading illegally, and it's a terrible source for hard drive destroying viruses. I don't take the risk. I think the real end of the video store can be represented by the color red.

Netflix made leaving your house for entertainment obsolete. That's appealing to a country whose collective ass is ever widening on their couches. You wait no more than a day or two for your next movie, and you never have a late fee. You really can't beat that. They always had online streaming of certain movies and TV shows, but they've recently ramped it up. You used to get one hour per month per dollar of your subscription. For example, if you had a $9.99 plan, you'd get 10 hours of streaming. That was cool, but they recently changed it to unlimited, and they increased the streaming content to a massive catalog. Add the fact that you can stream through your computer or any modern gaming system, and you have me watching Quantum Leap on my Wii. It doesn't get any better.

Another little red menace to Blockbuster is something called Redbox. These started popping up all over town in front of grocery stores, Walgreens, gas stations and other strategic locations. It's a DVD and Blu-ray vending machine that costs only $1 per day. You can keep your movie and be charged for each day if you want, and if you want to keep it, you can. You'll be charged for no more than 25 days, and it becomes yours. That's not the most cost effective way to buy a DVD, but it eliminates endless fees. Some boxes are even starting to carry games. The selection isn't always extremely vast, which is understandable considering the box is the size of a vending machine, but you can find which box has the movie you want and reserve it on the website. You can also return the movie to any Redbox. That's convenience, and great if you're a casual movie watcher who doesn't want to pay a monthly fee.

I've seen several store closing sales as I pass Blockbuster locations. They have "deals" of up to 30% off previously viewed movies. That's not much of a deal, if you ask me. Blockbuster has tried to follow the Netflix and Redbox models, but they're about three steps behind. As a mail carrier, I see about one Blockbuster envelope to every hundred Netflix envelopes. They're grasping at straws at this point, and now they're finally getting a taste of their own medicine.

Part of me is sad to see the video store go. It was a place to find obscure indie horror and the rare and unusual back in the early days. It became a mainstream big box superstore for a long time. Now Netflix and Redbox have returned us to a place in which we can see the straight-to-video movies and the obscure horror and comedy films. The catalog on Netflix is amazing, and they're getting to a point where you can find almost anything. In an age of overpriced cable and satellite fees, it's good to have a nice little entertainment outlet on demand. Now that's progress.

Read Lacey Paige's brilliant follow-up about a few indie survivors up in Canada.


  1. Personally I am glad to see Blockbuster go. Too many late fees and limited selection. Netflix has far better selection for the Indie and hard to find stuff. Blockbuster was just too late to reinvent themselves.

  2. Going to the video store is one of my best memories as a kid and it makes me sad to see that unique era gone extinct. The bright side is that thanks to the internet and businesses like Netflix, the consumer gets real options and movies that are only available in censored forms. (cough*blockbuster*cough) I'm always going to miss the mom and pop stores though.