December 10, 2016

Netflix killed the video store

I remember when the new Blockbuster opened in the plaza near my house when I was a kid. Within six months, it put the family-owned video rental store, Video Mart, out of business. Renting movies was one of my favorite things to do as a kid, and I was upset when Video Mart closed down.

Unlike Video Mart, there weren’t any dollar bins at the new Blockbuster. The old man who seemed to have an endless supply of lollipops didn’t work there. And most disappointing of all, Blockbuster didn’t have a mysterious backroom for customers 18 and older. I’d peaked through the curtain a few times, but could never figure out what was so special.

So, Blockbuster became the only video joint in our town. I quickly forgot about Video Mart, and would beg my parents to go to Blockbuster on the weekends.

Going to Blockbuster was an event when I was younger. Blockbuster meant the whole family would take a trip. The four of us would split up in the store, and my brother and I would often take half-an-hour to pick out our movies. We each got one movie (two if you were picking out of the dollar bin at Video Mart), candy and a box of microwave popcorn for the family. The whole way home my brother and I debated whose movie we would watch first.

As I got older, Blockbuster became something I did with my friends. My house had a TV in the basement, so it was the hang out spot for the neighborhood. I lived only a few blocks from Blockbuster, and a group of us used to walk there and spend an hour or picking out a collection of movies we could agreed on. Whenever there was nothing to do, we could always take a Blockbuster run.

Now businesses like Netflix and Redbox have taken over. Blockbuster has taken its last dying breath — a long awaited revenge for stores like Video Mart.

But Redbox doesn’t have candy, and you can’t walk down the street to get Netflix. There is no ritual.

The digital world has taken over every aspect of our lives. And moments of human interaction are dwindling. People have been exchanged for machines at the bank, the checkout line, the one-hour photo, and most depressingly — the video store.

Algorithms have replaced the pimple-faced kid at the register whose passion for film meant he or she could lead you directly to the perfect movie.

I’m not one of those anti-progressive hipsters who totes around a typewriter. I like depositing checks through my smartphone; I swear I can ring my stuff up faster in the self-checkout than people in traditional checkout lanes. And yes, I am ever so thankful for digital cameras. But all of those things are just tasks.

The human element is disappearing from our lives. Renting a video was always an experience for me. It meant getting out of the house and going somewhere as a family. It meant taking a walk with friends. I couldn’t tell you how many times we walked to that Blockbuster, in what seemed like blizzard conditions, when the neighborhood was painted white and school was canceled.

Today siblings don’t have to make compromises over whose movie goes first. They can each watch their own movie on their own device. There’s no reason to leave the house. Netflix isn’t something my family does on the weekend. Netflix is a Tuesday night or a Sunday morning; it’s an extension of watching a program on television. There’s no tradition in that.

I’m sad to see Blockbuster go, just as I was sad to see Video Mart close its doors. The digital age is making it so no one needs record stores or dark rooms or video rentals. Those industries died because of our obsession with digital convenience, and what’s done is done. But that means future generations don’t get to experience an aspect of my youth that brought me so many memories — piling into the car for a trip to the video store.

 

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