When I was young, spending a Saturday night with my dad was all about routine. First, we’d go to Peter Piper Pizza, which is probably the best pizza place in all of Arizona. It’s a kid-friendly restaurant full of video and arcade games—a place any five-year-old boy would love to spend his Saturday evening.
Next it was off to Blockbuster Video, where we would scan the new release shelves for a flick my dad and I would both enjoy. He liked action movies and I liked comedies, so finding a movie we’d both enjoy sometimes proved difficult. We’d often rent an old favorite just to avoid the risk of disliking something we hadn’t seen before.
With our rented VHS-tape in hand, we would head home and start watching our cinematic compromise. He would sit reclined on the Lazy-boy and I would sit on the couch. Halfway through the movie, we’d pause the tape and get a mid-movie treat—usually some “dip”—that’s what we call ice cream in our house.
This was our routine almost every Saturday night; we must have rented hundreds of movies throughout my childhood. I enjoyed this part of my childhood thoroughly and I partly attribute my appreciation of film to these Saturday movie nights.
Now, as Blockbuster files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy at the end of this month, my reaction is understandably melancholy.
In 1990s when VHS home viewing technology became widespread and even in the early 2000s, when higher quality DVDs became popular, Blockbuster ruled rentals. But the slow decline experienced by the company five years ago has turned into a downright spiral over the last two years.
Blockbuster is no longer the top shop and may even be calling it quits entirely. In the past three years alone, Blockbuster’s stock price has dropped almost 99 percent. Now as part of the company’s bankruptcy plan, reports claim that 1,000 of the company’s current 4,356 stores will be closing their doors.
And Blockbuster isn’t the only rental company seeing major declines in business. Other rental chains like Movie Gallery and Hollywood Video are finding the once booming rental business model of the ‘90s and early 2000s is no longer sustainable.
Hollywood Video closed its 8th Street store in Moorhead last month. Blockbuster in Fargo is still in business—for now at least.
While some of these movie rental businesses’ declines can be blamed on poor marketing and bad business deals, mostly their closings mark a core change in viewing habits.
Now more than ever, movie viewers are using services like Red Box, which uses free-standing kiosks in other stores such as Walmart, Walgreens, and McDonald’s. Unlike previous rental models, Red Box boasts one-day rentals that only cost a dollar.
But mostly, the traditional movie rental stores’ downfall has been caused by Netflix, which operates mostly on a movie-by-mail system and more recently, an instant-streaming service.
According to Netflix’s most recent financial results, the company has over 15 million subscribers, many of whom would have been in rental stores five years ago.
Blockbuster has tried a similar idea with Blockbuster Online in 2004, but rebranding the brick-and-morder store into a movie-by-mail company hasn’t proved successful.
So with this, it seems that traditional movie rentals are almost gone for good.
Hollywood Video on 8th street had their closing sale this summer. I went into the store to browse the left-over movie collection before it was closed. They were selling every movie in the store for near nothing—even the movie wallpaper on the walls was sold.
It’s a sign of the times I suppose. Netflix and other streaming services are easier, but there’s a part of me that will miss those Saturday night trips to Blockbuster.
There was something about seeing all the movies on the shelves in the store; each VHS had been invited into the homes of hundreds of families just like mine, each of them enjoying each movie just the same.
Maybe I’m being too sentimental, I think there was a special place in my childhood that was created by those Saturday movie nights. I’ll miss everything about it, right down to the fluorescent “Be kind. Rewind.” stickers that adorned each tape.
Preston Johnson is a technology enthusiast who focuses on writing about new technology, trends, and ethical concerns relating to technology in our modern age.