Blockbuster closing and video rental memories

I grew up in a small Midwestern town with a population between 5,000 and 7,000 people. A blockbuster store never showed up in that town, instead we had small community video rental stores. No matter what type of rental store was in any community, though, mine or yours, from huge corporate to locally owned rental spots, the memories remain the same.

To start off with, some have discussed how they are happy to see Blockbuster go down. The fact is, many local video rentals were in fact forced out by the large video rental chain. However, this isn’t what this column is about. In the end, Blockbuster was fighting the same battle that every video rental store is fighting. And with the latest blow, the remaining blockbuster stores closing, it represents the last of a group of warriors falling in battle.

The video rental store era is over, and it’s been on its way out for a long time, I watched it happen directly during my time in college. When I was attending Minnesota State University in the Fargo, N.D.- Moorhead, Minn. area, there were tons of places you could rent videos from. A couple Blockbusters, a Hollywood Video, and others. By the end of my time living in that metro area, almost all of them had closed up shop.

At the same time, I witnessed the rise of Netflix, Redbox, as well as other outlets like iTunes and even Youtube. All of them able to offer films old and new, obscure and Hollywood produced.

Obviously, this change is not surprising. It’s about efficiency, about people being able to do things more on their own time, and just making things easier. The closing of video rental stores from coast to coast in favor of a larger online presence is no different than MTV showing terrible reality TV shows instead of music videos because of the availability of them on Youtube.

However (and my nostalgia goggles may be on for this), but I don’t classify the death of video rentals as a good thing. Not just because businesses are closing and jobs are gone, but also because of the way it will eliminate the great memories that used to be created on the weekends.

Growing up, a trip to the video rental store on a Friday night was always exciting. It was as much of a staple of my weekend as a kid as watching Soul Train after Saturday morning cartoons. Going to rent some movies was always fun, and a trip to a store usually would take 10 minutes if not more.

Would the movie we want to rent be available or checked out already? What kind of VHS covers am I going to check out this week? These were questions I was always asking on the way there. Going into the store, I would always browse around randomly, checking out the various movies and Super Nintendo games that were on the shelves.

I would go by the action and horror movie sections and check out all the cool covers with Jason Voorhees and Sylvester Stallone, and just be excited for the day when I could actually watch them. And of course, there was always that discussion about what movie to rent for the whole family. This was followed at the end of the weekend with me on my bike, riding to the video rental store to return a VHS before the 6 p.m. deadline.

The jackpot was always getting a great movie (or video game) and knowing that you only had a limited amount of time with it. You would only have just a couple days to enjoy whatever great product you rented, so you had to cherish it. I remember renting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, and probably wearing out the tape from watching it so many times in one weekend.

Children today will have none of these memories. Redbox mainly just offers the big Hollywood films. Renting a movie from Redbox doesn’t feel like an individual trip for entertainment for the whole weekend. It’s simply an errand. It’s a simple quick stop on the way out of a grocery store or supermarket.

Then there’s browsing Netflix. It’s an amazing service with a huge selection and it does the absolute most important thing, which is give the ability for people of all ages to watch great flicks that they love.

With all that said, though, the end of the video store era is still a sad sight to see. Like most advances in technology which lead to older products going away, it’s always a positive having it much more efficient and simpler. The negative is that it feels colder and less memorable.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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