Monday, February 02, 2004

What a difference

According to this New York Times story by Andrew Ross Sorkin and Geraldine Fabrikant, the entertainment conglomerate Viacom may soon sell its stake in Blockbuster, the video chain, in the face of "the threat that video-on-demand offerings by cable operators could make renting a physical DVD or VHS tape obsolete."

I wouldn't shed any tears if Blockbuster went away. It's a terrible store. The moratorium on NC17 films is only one of several reasons I steer clear, and I haven't visited an outlet in almost four years. But thinking about Blockbuster's possible demise does give me pause. Blockbuster used to be very important to me.

The opening of a Blockbuster in my hometown of Nashville, sometime in the mid to late 1980s, was the source of much excitement for me and my high school chums. Before that, I had of course rented my share of videos, but I always did so at one of the neighborhood stores, which always seemed a little dodgy. In fact, many of the early ones in my neighborhood had various unsavory sidelines, like guns and pawning. The mom-and-pop video stores also were never very well lit, and while I don't think I had many complaints about the selection back then, they always seemed vaguely unclean.

So Blockbuster seemed like a revelation because it was clean, well lit and well organized, and I seem to recall that in the 1980s at least, the store carried titles difficult to find elsewhere. So I patronized the one in Nashville, and when I moved to Chicago, I kept going to Blockbuster because, yes, the mom-and-pop store in my neighborhood was discomfiting.

But all that Blockbuster-going ended when I came to Madison, home of wonderful Bongo Video, a locally owned video store that has everything a locally owned video store should have: pleasant staff, good if not vast selection, and a comfortable, homey vibe. I said adieu to the corporate lairds at Blockbuster long ago, and it appears that others are doing the same.

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