Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Bye Bye Blockbuster - BlackBerry and JC Penney Are Surely Next

I often wonder what happened to Steady Eddie whose tiny video store was the only show in town in a small market town in rural Norfolk where there weren't so many shows in town.



Eddie was a character and fearsome in his own way. To walk into the video store was like walking into a foreboding tomb in the mummy movies he was so fond of. You would fight your way through the thick blue fug of cigarette smoke to be confronted with Eddie with his lank black hair and equally black heavy rimmed glasses accompanied by a Welsh accent as thick as the smoke. He was like a caricature of Elvis, who was himself a caricature of Elvis in his last days. But Eddie was never a pretty Elvis.

Eddie's stare could terrify kids at 9 paces, 10 probably. And the omnipresent cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth gave off an odor as unpleasant as his demeanor. Eddie would give lectures about the best videos in the world and tongue lashings accompanied with heavy fines for late returns. He was a VHS fascist of the highest order but you didn't mess with him for fear of being barred from the only show in town and having to hang out in the nearby graveyard all night. I once drove all the way back from work one lunchtime, a 30 mile round trip to avoid Eddie's wrath and his fine.

I don't know what ever happened to him. I guess Blockbuster cleared up, but this is only an assumption. Blockbuster had a better selection of videos and large overpriced bags of M&Ms But I'm sure it didn't have the same sort of selection of under the table videos that Eddie used to hand over in brown paper bags with a sparkle in his eye and a lecherous wink.

In Barking some years later, Blockbuster was the only show in town. We'd walk through the rain and find the store was the only bright light in a Godforsaken street where glue sniffers and gangs hung out in alleyways.

Blockbuster was a fun Saturday night. It injected an element of glamor that we lacked overlooking the gas holders and the rail tracks. It brought Californian beaches and palm lined boulevards into our living room. We may not have been living but at least we could pretend we were.

The terraced house in the East End is long left behind. The terracotta patio we spent so much money on to fool ourselves we were in Tuscany is cracked and withered, the white walls faded. The rose garden I planted in pastels was allowed to die by tenants who filled the yard with trash. The oasis was a mirage. The terms are interchangeable.

Now even Blockbuster has gone. Today Blockbuster announced it is closing its remaining 300 stores in the U.S. The ones in Britain have already shut down. Staff are encourage to apply to BlackBerry and JC Penney, brands that may not survive 2014.

It occurs to me those nervous trips into Eddie's cave were almost 20 years ago. Although I can't imagine he is still there, I have found an online listing for him that makes me wonder.

Most of Eddie's advice was suspect. No the Mask of Zorro was not so fantastic. But one thing sticks in my mind. When we asked for a recommendation he pulled out the Shawshank Redemption with Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. We were hooked on the movie and I'd still say it is one of the best movies of recent years.

As for the Blockbuster story I should not feel sadness. Blockbuster put mom and pop shops like Eddie's place out of business. Now it has itself being killed off by Netflix and Red Box. But I can't help feeling sadness and nostalgia every time I see one of those closed down Blockbusters in a strip mall that time forgot.

Because for a while it basked in the sun and must have felt invincible. We can all remember that. Then it withered in the face of time and tide just like we will one day.

8 comments:

  1. Interesting and thoughtful post. I remember when Blockbuster closed its doors in my town.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by MJ. I know it's a brief slice of history, I guess.

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  2. There's always something new that's poised to put the status quo out of business. While I liked going to the video store to rent, going back to drop the movies off was a chore. I just stopped renting movies. Now there's Netflix that I don't bother with either.

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    1. I know, right JoJo and it seems to be moving faster..

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  3. Blimey...you took me back there David!
    Those were the heady days, were they not.
    Made me laugh that you drove a 30 mile round trip so you didn't get a bollocking from him!

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  4. I read about this the other day and honestly thought they had already closed all their stores. I predict Sears will soon follow them.

    The Shawshank Redemption is one of my favorite movies ever.

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  5. I'm not surprised Blockbuster is closing it's physical stores. I wonder if they're still attempting the mailing thing to compete with Netflix. Great post, it took me back to this one video store in my hometown when I was younger.

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  6. Living in England, especially Dartford, has been eye opening in terms of watching businesses fail and fold. Barratts went into administration (again?) yesterday. In South Africa, we had inner city decline and renewal so there was the seemingly inevitable rise and fall of areas. There were also shopping precincts that were mismanaged. But a country of boarded up high streets is something else.

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