Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Internet Killed the Video Star

"Please be kind, rewind."

That was the cute catch phrase printed in yellow font on the blue stickers, plastered onto the VHS tapes throughout Blockbuster Video stores.

The evolution of technology and retail outlets associated with it come in bite sized pieces anymore. Or, should I say, "byte" sized pieces?

Take Blockbuster Video, for example. It came out of nowhere less than 30 years ago and is now defunct. The company announced that its final 300 stores will be shuttered, as will its NetFlix-like disc-by-mail operation.

I remember being at work Downriver, circa 1986, and my co-worker and friend Vito Lumetta came back from lunch and raved, pie-eyed, about this new video store he stumbled upon.

"It's called Blockbuster and you should SEE all the videos!" Vito said, and though I'm paraphrasing, suffice it to say that his excitement was palpable.

But back in '86, Blockbuster stores were huge. They occupied the space of a medium-sized big box retailer back in the day, and the square footage was indeed filled, several white shelves high, with blue and white cases containing VHS tapes.

I can empathize with Vito's amazement.

Not long after being told of Blockbuster, I wandered in myself. I think the store that was the object of Vito's lust and was the one I entered, was the Lincoln Park location.

Vito was right. There were videos for as far as the eye could see. The store was huge---much larger than any video store I'd been in up to that point.


Blockbuster in its heyday


The workers---and there were quite a few of them in those days---all wore royal blue polo shirts with the Blockbuster logo sewn on the front.

But as the years went on, Blockbuster stores got noticeably smaller. The one by our house, on Dequindre in Warren, was chopped in half when another store moved into the strip mall beside it.

The Blockbuster way of signing up for membership---you literally had a laminated card with a magnetic stripe on it back then---was a little snooty. First, you were required to sign up with a credit card. If you didn't have one, you were out of luck. The credit card was there so Blockbuster could charge late fees or lost video costs to it, if the company wanted to.

The application form was as long as a legal contract, or mortgage papers. It was a little annoying and invasive, to be honest. I mean, it's videos, for God's sake!

You could say that Blockbuster got caught flat-footed by NetFlix, Red Box kiosks, et al, and didn't move with the times fast enough. I'm sure there are any number of theories as to why Blockbuster stores shrunk from supermarket size to that of a take-out only Chinese joint.

Doesn't really matter now. Blockbuster is about to rent out its final movies.

In twisted irony, the company that politely asked its customers to rewind tapes is probably wishing it could rewind time and make different decisions.


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