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PAINTER: Closing of Blockbuster stores bring back memories

• Jul 23, 2018 at 3:00 PM

The last remaining Blockbuster video rental store is getting a lot of attention.

In case you missed it, the news media reported recently that two of the last three Blockbuster stores in the United States have closed their doors.

This means there is just one Blockbuster store operating, and that store is in Bend, Oregon. Two stores in Alaska have gone out of business.

The news media, of course, has found this development to be very newsworthy, because Blockbuster was once an icon in the video rental business.

Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press, who always has been one of my favorite newspaper columnists, wrote about Blockbuster in his latest column. Alex Horton of the Washington Post and NBC News also reported on Blockbuster.

Albom, whose columns are extremely well-written and insightful, wrote about his own experiences at Blockbuster. “What struck me when I read about Blockbuster being down to one store is how vast those stores used to feel,” he said. “It was like walking into the New York Public Library. You couldn’t watch all the movies, you thought, or even sift through them.”

Horton and NBC News focused on the last Blockbuster still in existence. Both interviewed the owner who said that good customer service and the availability of newly released movies helps the store be successful. The owner also said that Bend residents enjoy socializing at the store.

The two stores in Alaska survived until recently because internet service was too costly, and that the state’s residents enjoyed renting movies during the long and dark winters. They closed because the owners said the stores were no longer profitable.

While the Blockbuster store in Grand Haven closed a number of years ago, I still have fond memories of it with the big blue and yellow sign. The local store was one of 9,000 in existence at the time.

Many of us have a connection with Blockbuster. My family spent many hours perusing Blockbuster’s large selection of new releases, as well as older videos. We would walk up and down the aisles looking for the movies that appealed to us. The number of available videos was staggering. As we checked out videos, we found it hard to resist the selection of “theater-like” candy, something you would want when watching a video.

I also can remember a number of other video stores in the surrounding area. They, too, have gone by the wayside. But Family Video still operates in Grand Haven.

Now, many of us find ourselves ordering movies through on-demand services offered by TV providers, or through streaming services such as Netflex or Amazon Prime. We no longer jump in the car and drive to Blockbuster. Instead, we rely on the convenience of ordering our favorite movies at home.

I find it amazing how much has changed through the years, including the way we enjoy entertainment.

At the expense of revealing how ancient I am, my brother and I could hardly wait for the latest Roy Rogers or Gene Autry movie to be shown at the local movie theater. We also stuffed ourselves with popcorn. We didn’t have a TV until I was 8 years old, and then we had just one “snowy” channel. So those movies were our main source of entertainment.

But the entertainment business began to change as early as the 1980s. After I won a video recorder in a store drawing in Flagstaff, Arizona, we began visiting local video stores.

As time went on, video players continued to gain more and more in popularity and video rental stores popped up everywhere.

Now, we are in a new era. We’re like many people now. We watch movies on cable TV, rent movies through an on-demand service and use streaming services. But that can’t take away the memories of the store with the large blue and yellow sign.

Yes, Blockbuster is gone, but the memories live on for many of us. We can still eat popcorn with our movies.

— By Len Painter, Tribune community columnist

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