No more late fees!
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Blockbuster Video has shelved its last title.

The video-rental giant opened its first outlet in Dallas, Texas in 1985. The chain reached its peak in 2004 with 60,000 employees in more than 9000 stores. By 2010, the number of stores had dwindled to 1700. It came as no surprise when Blockbuster announced earlier this month that all remaining 300 company-owned stores would be shuttered.

My Blockbuster card expired sometime in the early '90s when word leaked that what at the time was the world’s largest chain of video stores had a nasty habit of re-editing certain more objectionable, sexually pernicious titles — filth like Last Tango in Paris. To make matters worse, the weaselly ecumenical bigots flat-out refused to stock The Last Temptation of Christ.

Taking on a pair of made men like Scorsese and Bertolucci in a cavalier manner such as this, it’s a wonder several of the chain’s store windows weren’t blown out.

If you show tits, it’s rated NC-17. Cut ‘em off with a chainsaw and the MPAA will call it an R. Every slasher film featuring Jason, Freddy, and Leatherface was yours for the renting at Blockbuster, but Tango went against the company’s strict refusal to stock any NC-17 titles.

In the eyes of the money men, the only thing more damaging to the American psyche (and business) than sex is the questioning of spirituality. A fear of consumer boycotts is credited with keeping Godfellas from their inventory.

What remains of Blockbuster's North Park location. (Photo credit: David Batterson)

Viacom purchased the company in 1994 and while Temptation did eventually find a home in one of their video cupboards, the die had already been cast. There was no turning back. What with all the mom and pop video store my hometown of Chicago had to offer (and the world-class Facets Multimedia), Blockbuster had taken its last dime from my pockets.

Physical media is going the way of the mechanical bull. Within years every story that’s been committed to celluloid and pixels will be but a mouse click away. Today’s bookcase filled with DVDs is tomorrow’s 750 billion gigabyte hard drive.

With the exception of Fry’s Electronics, Big!Lots, and a few select pawn shops, it’s pert-near impossible to find a decent DVD retailer in San Diego. Blockbuster’s addition of DVD-by-mail, streaming, and video on demand arrived too late to combat the renter’s shift to Netflix.

Don't cheat on your 35mm mistress with a cheap video slut!

Why borrow for three nights when you can steal, that’s my motto! For years I pirated thousands of VHS bootlegs that couldn’t be found on TCM or AMC, when the latter still lived up to the ‘C’ in its name. You should see how the old tapes look when compared to what’s currently being pressed on Blu-ray. There are more creases than my backside after a hot bath. Other than stocking my personal collection, the allure of a video store has never much appealed to me. I watched, and continue to watch, the majority of movies on a big screen. At the time, 90 percent of the obscure titles that I longed to have a look at were not yet made available, and 90 percent of what was available wasn’t worth a second look.

Blockbuster was able to guarantee that popular new releases would be in store and waiting for you through a practice known as “deep and narrow” purchasing. Rather than shelving 50 different titles, the company would limit the variety by stocking 50 copies of one picture.

Taking a Blockbuster employee’s advice on what titles to rent was tantamount to walking up to the box office cold and asking the attendant, “What’s good?” I’m not about to turn over my evening’s entertainment dollar to some kid who doesn’t know Sam Fuller from a Fuller brush. The one question I heard time and again when asking a Blockbustarian for a more arcane selection was, “How do you spell that?”

Then there was the awkward final step. Instead of handing over the rental copy at point of purchase, patrons had to walk through something akin to a metal detector before taking possession so as not to trigger an alarm. It was a freaking video tape, not a safety deposit box.

For San Diegans crestfallen by the loss, I offer two words of consolation that will forever degauss from your mind all traces of Blockbuster: Kensington Video.

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monaghan Nov. 12, 2013 @ 4:16 p.m.

Perfect obit for a crummy business. I cut up my Blockbuster card last night, though I'm wondering if they have cheap seasons 3+ for "Breaking Bad" which is fine to watch on DVD/TV. Good you tout the real movies rather than streaming on one's computer -- ugh -- and long live Kensington Video.


Scott Marks Nov. 12, 2013 @ 6:06 p.m.

Seriously, now is the time to visit Blockbuster in case a few desirable titles remain in the cut-out bin.

See you at The Ken, Monaghan!


Visduh Nov. 12, 2013 @ 8:44 p.m.

With all these marginal retailers going out of business, who is going to occupy all the space they have cleared? Here in Vista, at one of the main intersections in town, the former Blockbuster and the former Payless Shoe Source have both folded in the recent past. So, out if front of a few still-viable businesses, such as a major supermarket, there are two hulks of a past era. I cannot think of any retailer who would want either of those buildings. And if I'm right the best thing for the owner would be to tear them down.

Against this backdrop, I'm still seeing more new retail space being constructed. There may be a real need for more in a few spots around the county, but on the whole, there is a permanent excess of such space. Sheesh, here in Vista in recent months, two Big Lots stores closed up. Guess the 'hood is just too upscale for them to succeed. LOL Things are even worse in Oceanside. One center at the intersection of Oceanside Blvd and El Camino Real was almost empty a few months back. It had lost a big pool hall/restaurant, the Oroweat bakery outlet store, and a bank, leaving only a couple small operations. I haven't checked on it recently. Even Poway, along Poway Road, has scads of empty retail space. This pattern is not going to turn around. Overall, we just have too much bricks-and-mortar retail space.


Scott Marks Nov. 13, 2013 @ 7:10 a.m.

Another missing tooth in the smile of El Cajon Boulevard! The good news is the once desolate corner of 30th and El Cajon is picking up. Aside from Carl's Jr. and Pacific Liquors -- cheap smokes and suds but damn them for not keeping lit every golden bulb in their magnificent retro sign -- there are a couple of new restaurants, a Thrift Trader on the corner where a furniture store once stood, an incredibly over-priced and pretentious coffee house (empty frames adorn the white walls and perfectly compliment the vacant looks on the server's faces) and The Media Arts Center complete with a movie theatre! Looks like what was once a piano store is about to get a new lease on life, too. Now if only they'd build a parking structure. It's getting impossible to find a space on the street for a 10 am screening. I can't imagine what it's like on the weekend.


dwbat Nov. 13, 2013 @ 10 a.m.

The thrift store on El Cajon Blvd. west of 30th (across from Jack in the Box) has DVDs and VHS tapes, but the selection is sketchy. I bought the "Troy" DVD a while back. After watching it, I was glad I didn't pay much!


Scott Marks Nov. 13, 2013 @ 10:34 a.m.

You paid with your time, didn't you? :P


dwbat Nov. 13, 2013 @ 12:23 p.m.

Yes, and I'll never get those hours back. At least the battle scenes were pretty good. But the dialog was hideous. But Peter O'Toole still managed to get a good performance out of that mess.


Dave Rice Nov. 13, 2013 @ 12:02 a.m.

Ho hum. My local Blockbuster became a Starbucks (another scourge upon society) some time ago - my wife/amateur movie buff scored a handful of titles at the closing sale that seem to make her happy, which is the best thing there is to say about the event.

I miss Paladin Video in "downtown" OB, and their clerks, a lot more...


Scott Marks Nov. 13, 2013 @ 6:50 a.m.

Hey, Dave! Completely Video, an independent rental store next to Lestat's in Normal Heights, may be a funky enough substitute.


Ken Harrison Nov. 13, 2013 @ 6:08 a.m.

Hey Dave, willing to openly admit to wanting to commit a federal crime (copyright infringement) for the sake of the art, do you happen to have in your personal collection, Far Wind to Java (1953 Fred MacMurray) or Melody Ranch (1940 Gene Autry) Haven't tried the Kensington yet.


Scott Marks Nov. 13, 2013 @ 6:46 a.m.

They're both available on DVD, Ken. Give Winnie a call.


Colonna Nov. 15, 2013 @ 2:52 p.m.

Blockbuster served its purpose much like Netflix is doing now. Something else will come along and replace Netflix too.

I was a Facets Multimedia rent-by-mail member for several years - their catalog was more diverse than the United Nations.

We have one independent video store left here in the cold climes of Fort Wayne. One. And half of their store is XXX adult titles and people still rent them. Only in Indiana.


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