And here I thought the gap between parts one and two were substantial. I’ve had this hanging around, waiting to be done for quite some time now, so let’s see to wrapping this series up before the calender rolls to 2015… somewhere else in the world!
Last time, I said that after moving, I’d soon be more involved with Blockbuster than ever before. While the latter part is indeed true, it would actually be a good few years after getting married and moving to Toronto before I wound up stepping through the doors of one of their stores again.
Following a few stints working at places such as Toys R Us, my wife and I visited a location which was near the apartment we’d just moved into (our second together, for those keeping track) in 2004. On a lark, I asked for an application, and soon hit things off with the staff there and found my way to working as an employee of Blockbuster Entertainment. For a little while, at least.
I would take pretty much any work I could get; on weekends, this would often involve working the floor, which I absolutely hated due to the need to constantly push these add-on membership deals which had coupons and lots of admittedly cool stuff. I made the most of it, but was soon put to better use behind the register, handling returns and ringing people up for their movies and games, as well as helping them find out about what the store had to offer. Admittedly, I felt more at home there, even when having to explain in detail what Blockbuster meant by “no more late fees” (I still have the shirt, too).
I’d also take on once-a-month inventory work, where a group of us pretty much took a tally of the entire store’s stock of… well, everything in the store (stuff that was checked out was accounted for separately). Even stuff you wouldn’t think would be a part of it, like television sets, we pretty much kept track of it. Sometimes it even came at the end of a shift, but I was usually okay with it– ideally if I could get a bit of a break between the normal shift and the inventory shift. If memory serves me correctly, the inventory shifts tended to come between 11pm to 6am. I was more of a night owl then, and was happy to score the extra hours, rarely missing one of those shifts despite only periodically being required to do one.
One of my favorite instances of the breaks in between came after Mega Man Anniversary Collection was released. I decided to spend my in-between break time playing Mega Man 2, and managed to finish it in right around an hour on the harder difficulty, impressing some coworkers. One of my prouder moments as a gamer, I have to say. I just wish I’d managed to play the copy of Mega Man X8 I’d purchased there (at a discount, of course) as impressively, though perhaps the craziness of that game’s ending sequence made up for it.
That segues into my main job for the duration of my time there: The GameRush “store within a store,” where I basically ran the video game section. I’d choose and set up games to run as demos in the three-pronged GameCube/PlayStation 2/Xbox demo station we had set up, keep things straightened and organized, and that was usually where I took the inventory during those shifts. All in all, I was fairly happy doing that, though not exactly content.
One thing we had to do was push pre-orders, and truth be told– for whatever reason– we just weren’t pushing the good stuff. For some reason, the Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith game just wasn’t doing the business they’d hoped, nor did the PlayStation Portable upon its launch. Though to be fair, the Halo 2 launch went rather well– I still have the giant cardboard display from that, which resides in my in-laws’ basement. I wish I had a better place for that.
But I digress; I wanted to improve what we were doing, but never really had the opportunity. This was especially true after a visit to a Blockbuster location in the States which had a GameRush section which just seemed so very much better than what we had going on. All sorts of titles we didn’t have, all sorts of merchandise and paraphernalia… it just seemed more fun overall.
I even took some pictures to show my superiors in the hopes that they might come around to helping make it stand up comparably…
…but alas, my pleas fell on deaf ears.
In addition to catching and keeping up with lots of movies and games I’d not have otherwise been able to afford at the time, I also managed to take advantage of free console rentals as well. While we owned a GameCube as a Christmas gift from my parents, I would be constantly renting a PlayStation 2 and an Xbox from them, and getting to play a lot of the great games they had. I was honestly hoping I’d get to purchase those units from them, but sadly, that never came to pass.
This also resulted in one of my favorite pictures of our cat at the time, Dante.
All good things must come to and end, though, and after we were forced to move to a different apartment further from the store, I had a little bit of trouble acclimating to the commute and ended up running a bit late a few times (never mind that I’d stay over…). I even remember getting the question of “why didn’t I call?”, despite talking on a cell phone while driving being illegal.
The axe finally fell around the summertime, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t due to the times I’d been late, as I was told. Rather, I’d made the mistake of standing up for a customer with which store policy sided despite an assistant manager disagreeing. I’m honestly pretty sure that’s what did me in.
Aside from financially crippling me for a spell and having to face my wife with the news when I couldn’t find new employment before it came time to pay the rent, I didn’t really hold a grudge. Well, not a very big one, anyway; I’d still visit the store and talk to people there and rent things and such.
As time went on, though, I visited less and less frequently. This was due in part to staff I knew moving on, as well as the store’s eventual closure. Fortunately, for my Blockbuster needs, there was actually a store much, much closer to where we had moved to. I remember getting some games there on the cheap, including Burnout 3 for the Xbox. I also found the Donkey Kong figure I’d been looking for there, of all places, after checking more conventional places. Given that the release of Donkey Kong Jungle Beat for the Wii (one of my favorite games– I have both versions) had me on a DK high, this was particularly fortunate.
Well before Blockbuster was making headlines in the U.S., though, more and more of the stores here were being shuttered. This included the nearby location, which– like some others, ironically– was replaced by a new store bearing a logo with a similar color scheme:
The biggest competitor Blockbuster had here, Rogers Video, soon phased the “video” part out in favor of acting as store fronts for Rogers Cable and other services they provide. In some cases, this left some rather large stores with very little to fill the space with. What’s more, Netflix by mail has never really existed in Canada, meaning that only the sub-par (from what I’ve heard, anyway) streaming version is the only way to go there.
With the fall of the two big Goliaths of video rental, some other interesting developments have emerged since I began writing these articles. Redbox and similar-styled video kiosks have begun surfacing around here, a bit later than in the States, but growing in presence somewhat. There was a similarly styled machine down at our local grocery store, for instance, though that has since been removed for reasons unknown. More recently, a promotion from Pizza Pizza has seen coupons for free Redbox rentals offered, though we’ve yet to encounter one of these machines for ourselves.
Word is that local video stores are also on the rise again, able to operate out of the shadow of the behemoths which once threatened their very existence. Part of this is because they’re able to offer older selections which are no longer available through the likes of Netflix streaming or Redbox and their respective ilk. While those companies’ licenses may expire or they have to make room in their limited space for new offerings, the local places have both the non-expiring physical format and the room to keep them.
In fact, there’s an amazing video store not too far from where I live now that has perhaps more DVDs in one place than I’ve ever seen in my life. Unfortunately, they don’t do video games, but maybe if there’s interest, I can show it off sometime in a future article or video.
With that, I don’t believe there is much more to say. It truly is the end of an era, and those of us who lived it will always have the fond memories of walking the aisles, looking over the boxes, and the excitement of rushing home with our new acquisition to make the most of a weekend.
So long, Blockbuster, and thanks for all the memories.
For those who wish to read up on the full story of Blockbuster closing and the thoughts of others on the matter, please visit the following links:
- Blockbuster Officially Killing Off Remaining Stores And DVDs By Mail – The Consumerist
- The Sun Sets—For Good—on the Blockbuster Night – Kotaku
- Why I Mourn Blockbuster Video – Forbes
- End of an Era: Blockbuster Video, R.I.P. – Topless Robot
- MovieBob’s Re-Tales: Blockbusted