It’s weird to think that Blockbuster is gone. I wasn’t a regular customer because there was another chain closer to home, but they were everywhere. At the height of the popularity of video rentals, I always felt that large urban centers such as Philadelphia could use more video rental outlets. The stores we would frequent would often have long lines and the selection of new releases were quickly picked over by the early birds. We would often settle for some cinematic mediocrity that existed merely to pad out the shelves of video stores.
Back then, the biggest complaint vocal consumers had were the late fees that the big chains particularly Blockbuster would levy on videos not returned on time. People actually tried to get legislators involved because they flaked out on returning a video they may have taken an hour picking out and waiting in line to rent. It was ridiculous. I had a roommate who would rent four VHS cassettes from a shop; get home; hunker down to watch the movies and fall asleep halfway through the first picture. I never knew what he was thinking. Was he going to stay up all night watching movies? No. He would hang on to them for a week and complain bitterly about the late fees. Yep, that Don “The Dragon” Wilson martial arts opus was absolutely worth the mortgage-sized late fees.
People forget the early days when renting VHS and BetaMax tapes was a Mom-and-Pop business. Usually a convenience store or a liquor store would bring in video tapes to supplement a regular business. Back in the ’80s, there was a drug store — I think it may have been Green Drugs at 5th and South Streets in Philadelphia — that rented video tapes and the VCR to play them. Of course, you had to put down a hefty cash deposit. I remember it was at least a $50 deposit just for the tapes. Video cassettes were pretty pricey back then, and these shop owners weren’t taking any chances.
Now these videos are considered worthless. Thrift stores and flea markets are glutted with them. I recently found a grocery sack stuffed with audio CDs and DVDs on a street corner near my house with the word FREE scrawled on the bag with a ballpoint pen. The movies were mainly romantic comedies and Adam Sandler movies so I left them for the next guy. I did get some pretty decent CDs from that large brown bag.