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Here’s Why I Miss Blockbuster--and Why We Needed it

His name was Joey. He had a goatee, like my dad, which immediately made him the second coolest person I knew. He also loved Quentin Tarantino, like me, though I had yet to see any of the director’s movies.

His name was Joey. He had a goatee, like my dad, which immediately made him the second coolest person I knew. He also loved Quentin Tarantino, like me, though I had yet to see any of the director’s movies. I was 13, and according to my mother, Tarantino films were, “full of blood, violence and hatred.” She was right. But Joey got to watch them, therefore Joey was hip. In between restocking the candy display with Buncha Crunch and referencing obscure movies I would later search for on IMDb, Joey greeted my father and I with the kind of friendliness, warmth and knowledge that made visits to the Blockbuster in Allen a weekend staple. 

I know that not every Blockbuster has a Joey. I assume the last remaining video haven–located on a tree-lined avenue in Bend, Oregon–has at least one Joey, if not a whole team of Tarantino-loving, untucked shirt-wearing movie buffs eager to tell you Magnolia was, is and always will be the finest film ever made. But alas, even the Bend Blockbuster will one day shutter. Like all of its fellow stores across the nation, it will succumb to the sad fate of murder by Netflix. Time will march on, and it’s only natural. Man has always craved immediate access to the tools by which he can entertain himself, and with Hulu, Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus, DIRECTV On Demand and the aforementioned, nefarious Netflix, we finally have it. Yet I can’t shake the feeling that we lost far more than a video store when Blockbuster shuttered the majority of its shops in 2013. 

We lost those interactions with Joey. We lost debating with our friends the merits of Raisinets in popcorn versus M&Ms in popcorn (the former is the clear winner) while we waited to check out, desperately hoping Joey’s draconian boss didn’t ask us our ages and just let us rent Reservoir Dogs. Perhaps most importantly, we lost the interactions we shared with complete strangers. That might be most people’s least favorite part of shopping, but anytime I scroll through Netflix, wondering what I’ll watch before inevitably selecting The Office, I miss the people in the aisle. I miss the judgmental looks I got from the patrons who noticed I was renting Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous, somehow fully aware that it was not, in fact, “for a girl.” I miss picking out a mountain of movies with my dad, realizing no one would like them but us, and renting them anyways. The Blockbuster on McDermott Drive taught me about movies, about my dad, and about community.

I recently told my father that I was writing an essay about Blockbuster, to which he laughed. Then he smiled. He remembered Joey, he remembered the Raisinets, and he remembered coming home with a bounty of films that were ultimately deemed too bloody, too violent and too replete with hate. We would watch Finding Nemo with the family, then, when everyone fell asleep, we’d put on 28 Days Later. That is still possible now, of course, but it wasn’t just the viewing that made the weekend–and my entire childhood–unforgettable; it was the selection. I remember perusing every inch of the store in search of movies that would make me, too, a hip and eventually goateed movie buff, I wanted nothing more than to present my father with a copy of Harvey or It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and watch his eyes come alight with satisfaction, a look my 13-year-old heart hoped meant, “This kid gets it.” 

We still have movie nights. We still mix Raisinets and popcorn. There is something missing, though. Be it from an algorithm or the sleek design of the plethora of platforms mentioned above, our choices seem made for us. In comparison, Blockbuster’s vast, vaguely organized store seems messy. I miss the mess. I miss finding a stray copy of Troy behind a copy of Titanic

Blockbuster was a place to visit and browse, and browsing is underrated.

It wasn’t just me and my dad. I think the community lost something, too. Blockbuster gave us a place to simply be. We were supposed to buy or rent something, but the store’s capitalistic mission seemed secondary to the experience. Blockbuster invited us in to explore. Lovers of rom-coms, dramedies, spaghetti westerns and sword-and-sandal epics were all welcome to scan the stacks and stacks of cinema for the 90-minute experience that would buoy your weekend. With Blockbuster gone, that search is over. 

I miss seeing other dads, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers and moms preparing for their own movie nights. I miss the distant aroma of buttered popcorn wafting down every aisle. That smell may be a fabricated memory, an example of my mind longing for the comfort of the past, but I don’t think it is. I think all of my memories are real. I remember Joey. I remember late nights searching the bargain bins for fantastic finds. I remember the haunting fear that stirred my soul whenever I was a day late returning Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous. I remember sharing looks and laughs with strangers who, too, were trying to find the perfect, Mom-approved movie. I miss running to my dad with an armful of movies, and looking up at his smiling eyes to ask, “Can we rent one more?”