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The Arcade Age
Blockbuster - store closing sign in a vacant parking lot

‘This location only’ (along with 8,000 others…)

Today is a historic day: today (yesterday for some) marks the last day a movie was ever rented from a Blockbuster video store.

In case you were wondering, it was in Hawaii, a guy rented the hilarious Seth Rogen comedy, ‘This is the End’ which is fairly ironic (and also a hilarious film about the apocalypse).

If corporations really are people than I guess this is a eulogy.

poster for 'this is the end'Blockbuster’s demise was inevitable. It was simply a matter of time before this corporate behemoth went the way of the dinosaurs. We’ve seen this before in the newspaper industry, vinyl records, and video arcades. However, there’s more to the story than changing of the times. With all this nostalgic-laden news, I thought I’d share a little insight into exactly what happened behind the scenes.

You see, I used to be one of the mindless drones behind the counter selling rewards programs you didn’t need, pre-orders you didn’t want, and explaining why an account has a $300 balance when they’d announced ‘The End of Late Fees’ (instead we have restocking fees lol), and as much as I loved my job, I equally hated Blockbuster’s corporate management: They were horrendous. They constantly screwed over both their customers, AND their employees (which I can attest to, seeing as they put a pay freeze in to affect, right before I was promoted to management).

Many people point to Redbox and Netflix as the reason for the video giant’s collapse, (well that and the economic recession of 2008 partially thanks to the housing bubble) but the hilarious truth is Blockbuster once had an opportunity to buy out Netflix, and passed on it, multiple times. They instead decided to merge with Enron, a sound decision that couldn’t possible backfire in any way.

Still, for some reason I worked there for five years before finally being laid off like everyone else (a few years ago). I’m still stuck in retail, while working towards my degree (paying your own way takes a little while), but I kinda miss the novelty of working in a video store, which in the world of retail is right up there with retro video game shops, and comic book stores. I watched A LOT of movies during my time there, I’m talking thousands of titles, some good, mostly terrible. When they started their online program I caught up on classics that we no longer carried in the store, giving myself a thorough knowledge of motion picture history, everything from black and white detective noirs  to 50’s sci-fi B-movies (I had a lot of time on my hands back then, and very little in the way of a social life). I figured it wasn’t a terrible job for a college student, but alas, it was not meant to last.

blockbuster boarded up

If losing my job wasn’t bad enough though, my second job at the time was at Borders, the massive bookstore chain, you know the one that went bankrupt and completely disappeared when no one was looking. Guess what? That happened the same exact month!

empty shelves, sign rearranged to: 'the end is near'

When I found out that Blockbuster was being forced to shut down my store’s location, I took solace in the fact that I’d landed another job at Borders, and it was simply a matter of time before I moved up the ladder once again, and if I had to choose between working environments, I’d pick Borders any day of the week.

invisibility cloaks 50% off (empty hanger on shelf)Borders was one of three major bookstore chains at the time in North/East Florida, along with Books-a-Million and Barnes and Noble, both of which are still around, I think. But out of those three, Borders was my personal favorite. They’re rewards program was free, they had an amazing selection, great bargain values, a religious section that wasn’t limited to Christianity, a friendly environment, and Seattle’s Best coffee. Working there was a dream come true, and not just for the discount (I once dropped a paycheck there, so not sure if that’s a plus or not), it was a great way to stay in tune with publishing trends, and an opportunity to meet published authors. Ultimately what Borders did wrong was quite the opposite of Blockbuster.

The fatal mistake for Borders was in trying too hard to adapt to the new wave of digital e-readers. Rather than focusing in and promoting one specific brand of e-book devices, they decided to market as many as they could, thinking that the print medium was as outdated as VHS. I personally don’t think actual books will ever completely dissipate, there’s just something about having an actual tangible piece of writing on bound parchment (which is probably why I blog, on the interwebs about it).

'No restrooms - try Amazon'E-readers are nice and everything, but we spend so much of our time online, especially those of us who work with computers, it’s nice to escape modern technology, and what better way than by jumping into a fantasy series, a horror anthology, or a hard bound graphic novel on a cold rainy evening?

Regardless of losing both my jobs within a month of each other, I luckily managed to land a job at Target where I’ve since cross-trained as a cart attendant and Starbucks barista, biding my time till I have my bachelor’s in Digital Media, and subsequently take over the world.

Random side tangent: All this talk of nostalgia reminds me of video arcades. At one point (the 80’s and 90’s), arcades were everywhere (much like Blockbusters and Borders). Growing up in Las Vegas, back when Gameworks was a gaming mecha. I used to hit up the arcade next to the bowling alley, with my friends, where we wasted our allowances in twenty dollars worth on token-fueled pix-elated conquests for scoreboard glory, from Pac-Man and Donkey Kong to Mortal Kombat and Time Crisis, all the while our parents got drunk and blew money at the slot machines. 

Flynn's Arcade from 'Tron Legacy'

Pictured: excavation of what archaeologists believe to be an ancient temple dedicated to a neon god called TRON.

These days arcades are practically a thing of the past with the rise in popularity of home consoles and MMO’s. Arcades simply couldn’t compete with the evolving graphics, and versatility of Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft. Recently, I decided to take a trip down memory lane and made a visit to an overpriced five story arcade: Disney Quest, at Downtown Disney. What To my dismay, I came to realize that the place hadn’t been updated in a decade, no
t to mention the VR ‘rides’ were terribly outdated, and glitchy. Granted, there were plenty of 
ecstatic kids who’d never even seen an arcade before, so I could see that alone being worth it.

Point is things change, it’s the only constant in the universe. As sad as it is, some things are a result of their time, video rental stores, massive quarter-munching arcades, and even gigantic warehouse sized bookstores might very well fall into this same category. In the end both Blockbuster and Borders were responsible for putting hundreds of indie retailers out of business, so maybe it was merely karma — perhaps Walmart should watch out…

Blockbuster closing chartDo you have fond memories, or horror stories, you’d like to share about Borders, Blockbuster, or other businesses that have since gone extinct? If so, sound off in the comments below! 🙂

                                                                        Erik Slader

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Erik Slader
Erik Slader
Erik Slader is the creator of “Epik Fails of History” a blog (and podcast) about the most epic fails… of history. With Ben Thompson, Erik is the co-author of the Epic Fails book series. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Digital Media, once managed a comic book shop, has a weakness for fancy coffee and currently lives in Green Cove Springs, Florida with too many cats.



  2. David Harris says:

    Wow, lost both jobs within a month! Glad you landed Target, though. As a shopper, I really like Target. Know another guy who works there and he likes the way he’s treated. Don’t think Target or Starbucks are going away anytime soon, at least not until you conquer the world 🙂 I prefer real books. They feel good. Don’t need charging. Don’t break if ya drop em. Don’t mind sand. Lendable/tradeable. Write inable. Nice shelf filler. Unmagnetic pulse destroyable! Btw, I am able to utilize better grammar, but its 430am and this is what happens when MY battery runs low! Nite!

    • ErikSlader says:

      I can’t agree enough!
      I love actual tangible books for all those reasons.
      I’ve had worse jobs than Target (i.e. – janitorial services at an elementary school – cleaning the lunch room was like cleaning up after a rock concert, on a daily basis). Retail isn’t my number one choice, but it works for my whacked out schedule with college classes and all.

  3. A. van Nerel says:

    I grew up on the east side of the Atlantic (the part that used to run the world before you guys took over), but my dad lives in Canada and I would visit him frequently. Have fond memories of him taking me to Blockbuster there…It does add something to the movie experience when you have to go out and rent a movie instead of just going online.
    Last time we went to Blockbuster was when we rented ‘Poseidon’, only they had accidentally put in the wrong DVD in the case (some sort of TV movie with the same title, but even more awful than the real ‘Poseidon’)…I guess in that moment I realized Blockbuster’s days were numbered…
    Let’s hope we don’t find the technology to digitalize coffee, otherwise Starbucks will be next in line for the chop…

  4. […] Blockbuster, Borders, and Bankruptcy! […]

  5. […] a cross roads if you will. I didn’t exactly know what I wanted to do. I was laid off from both my jobs at the same time, many of my friends were moving away or starting families, I was still working in […]

  6. Woh I enjoy your articles, bookmarked!

  7. Hiya, I am really glad I’ve found this info. Nowadays bloggers publish only about gossips and net and this is really annoying. A good web site with interesting content, this is what I need. Thanks for keeping this website, I’ll be visiting it. Do you do newsletters? Can’t find it.

    • Erik Slader says:

      Thank you so much! As far as the signing up for the newsletter: if you’re on a desktop, you can scroll up towards the top and it should be on the right. If you’re on mobile, it should be towards the bottom. 🙂

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