Blockbuster occupies the corner space at the shopping plaza. A friend of mine in Oregon had scoffed, over Skype, “You still have a Blockbuster?” Actually, up until last week, we had two Blockbusters. The other location was only five miles away.

But that one, a victim of a wireless world, is empty, and here stands the last Blockbuster.

“Blockbusters and CD stores,” my friend had said. “I don’t know how they do it.”

Well, I presume this last Blockbuster will get some traffic from its dead sister, a few new customers who refuse to watch movies on-demand, who refuse to download movies from the internet, who refuse to join Netflix. It’s a free-market presumption.

But that’s not what my friend was talking about. His thoughts fit better with free-market ideas. How would a Blockbuster survive into another decade?

In other words, why am I standing in this Blockbuster scanning new releases? “The Amazing Spiderman,” “Lawless,” “The Expendables 2.” In other words, why am I about to rent “Lawless?” Now I’m thinking about renting “Atlas Shrugged” to add a bit of irony, but I’d rather watch “Lawless,” which probably exudes a better sense of free enterprise anyway.

“You still rent movies from Blockbuster?” my friend had said following my Skype confession.

Yes, although this will probably be my last Blockbuster rental – at the last Blockbuster. The place has lasted longer than it should, but I expect it to die eventually. The thought of renting movies during its final moments is sad to me.

The guy at the counter has nose piercings and tattoos, not that I’m judging. They just go along with his careless, lackadaisical demeanor. He doesn’t greet me or smile. He just takes the DVD, along with my laminated Blockbuster card and sealed by-mail rental, and dejectedly scans the three items.

“I’m sorry,” my friend had said. “You rent by mail from Blockbuster and Netflix? And you stream movies? Why are you still driving to Blockbuster?”

That’s correct. I receive movies by mail from both services. I also stream Netflix selections via a Playstation.

Netflix has made business mistakes over the last few years, but it’s still outperforming Blockbuster market-wise. Blockbuster had a chance to kill Netflix by streaming movies. Sure, it offers on-demand services, but Netflix’s streaming service, even though it doesn’t include most films, is superior.

Blockbuster’s only advantage is its physical location. After watching a mail-order film, I can take it to Blockbuster and exchange it for a film on the shelf. I don’t have to wait for the newest films, some of which Netflix can’t make available until weeks later.

“But what’s a few weeks? It’s better to just go all in on Netflix and get those new movies on-demand if you can’t wait. It’s less money.”

I agree. So Blockbuster’s lone advantage isn’t much on an advantage, and so I’m getting my last rental from the last Blockbuster, its destiny the same as VCR tapes and its competitors in the last century.

“Remember when we’d go there for tapes?” He was talking about another Blockbuster in another town. He was talking about nostalgia, another reason I’ve continued renting here. I enjoy looking at titles, reading the case backs. I enjoy visiting the horror and comedy sections. These stores have distinctive carpeting and unique lighting, an old recipe, I’m sure, for exciting customers about movies and compulsive-purchase snacks – the popcorn packs, boxed candies and soda – the scents of which mix with DVD fragrance – similar to tape fragrance – to create the aroma of renting films, the aroma of localized Hollywood.

“I get that,” he said. “But it’s a thing of the past.”

Not yet. I’ll be back one more time to drop this DVD in the exterior last. Then Blockbuster will be a thing of the past, a victim of change. The chain, which had overpowered local business after local business, will fall to an opponent that didn’t need storefronts.

The guy on the other side of the counter seems miserable, hating his meager job and depressed about looking for work again in the near future. He has no reason to value customer service, to smile, to be polite or courteous. He has no reason to speak to me. He just meets me near the exit, past the security portal, and hands me the generic case. Then he returns to his seat and continues watching “Evil Dead” on one of the screens.

I leave the last Blockbuster, its plastic, faded, cracked awning glowing blue and yellow, its windows decorated with posters for films released to DVD months ago, no longer trying, just existing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *