Where Did the Neighborhood Video Store Go?

How services like Redbox and streaming sites are changing how we watch movies.

Just as video killed the radio star, streaming sites and other competitors are destroying neighborhood video stores. Gone are Hollywood Video, Video World and countless locally owned video rental locations. 

Along with about 15 other odd jobs in college, I worked at the once powerful, mega-video store Blockbuster. I have fond memories of late nights helping couples, families and college peers pick out their Friday night entertainment. 

I was saddened to hear that my store closed shortly after my graduation. Dish Network bought Blockbuster in April 2011 and has since reduced the number of video stores to about 1,000. At its peak in 2004, Blockbuster had more than 9,000 stores worldwide.

With the rise of streaming sites and on demand, brick-and-mortar video stores are becoming scarce.

Why streaming sites are hot

In the past five years, sites such as Netflix, Hulu, ABC, NBC and Veoh along with on-demand services have skyrocketed. The reasons:

  • Convenience: Gone are the days of having to round up the family, get in the car, and drive to the nearest video store. With streaming sites you can choose what to watch from home and wait for the video to load in about the time it takes to pop a bag of popcorn. Also gone is the worry that the store will be out of the movie you want.
  • Price: By removing building costs and labor, streaming sites are able to offer unlimited viewing for low prices each month. Netflix cost $7.99 a month, about the same cost to pay one Blockbuster employee for an hour of labor.
  • Portability: Don’t have a portable DVD player or laptop? No worries. Sites such as Netflix, ABC and NBC now can stream your favorite shows to your smartphone.

How Blockbuster is trying to stay relevant

Blockbuster isn’t giving up without a fight. Along with closing stores, the company is experimenting with new ways to connect with today’s customers.

  • Blockbuster Total Access: To compete with Redbox and Netflix, Blockbuster started Blockbuster Total Access. The plan (ranging from $9.99-$19.99) allows for you to select DVDs at http://www.blockbuster.com/ and then send them back for a new DVD or exchange them in store for movies and games. Higher prices and not as many streaming options might be a competitive disadvantage.
  • Blockbuster Kiosks: To compete with the popular $1/night Redbox franchise, Blockbuster launched Blockbuster Express, a kiosk station where you can rent DVDs day by day. While the price is cheaper than if you rented in store, the DVDS are still $2, double the price of Redbox. The one benefit? Because of contracts with the film industry, Blockbuster is able to rent new releases about 28 days earlier.

What we miss about the neighborhood video store

While the convenience of having streaming video feeds the need to have what we want when we want it, the charm of the neighborhood video store will not soon be forgotten.

What Redbox and Netflix lack is the depth of videos available at the corner store. Frequently, I find myself wanting to watch a classic video that isn’t available at the $1 kiosks, but I typically can find it online. I also miss the human interaction of going into a store and the recommendations I get from those who work there and are passionate about movies.

But alas, nostalgia doesn’t pay the bills and in our want-it-now society it seems that video stores will soon become the way of the Zune, the Flip camera and the Palm Pilot.

Brittany Burns misses the days of spending Friday nights picking out movies, snacks and games at her local Blockbuster.