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Remember Blockbuster? It’s Back – and it’s FREE!

Nothing like a little nostalgic blast from the past to ease the pandemic blues.

With only one remaining Blockbuster Video store still standing in Bend, Oregon, it’s unlikely that you and your family are going to be having a ‘Blockbuster night’ anytime soon. The once great and mighty video rental chain has almost entirely disappeared since the late 2000s when they filed for bankruptcy and shuttered most of their retail stores. ‘

Sure, some specially franchised locations stayed open for a while, cashing in on the novelty of being one of the last locations on the planet still bearing the once mighty Blockbuster name, but these days video rental stores have pretty much gone the way of the dodo bird.

Streaming services have virtually obliterated all other potential competitors. Why would you get off your couch and drive to a brick and mortar store just to wander around for 45 minutes only to find that film you really wanted to rent was temporarily out of stock? I mean, if you’re into some weird type of retail masochism then maybe that’s the kind of thing that gets you going but, the majority of us are going to stick with Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

But if you absolutely must revisit the Blockbuster era for some sort of nostalgic release, you might be in luck if you live in LA, Philadelphia, Richmond, or a handful of other cities across the United States.

A number of small, newspaper-style kiosks have popped up in these locations bearing that old familiar Blockbuster logo coupled with a message encouraging people to ‘take a movie, leave a movie’. If you’ve ever seen one of those little free book honor-system library boxes, these are essentially the same concept.

The kiosks which have been deemed ‘Free Blockbuster Video’ are the brainchild of Brian Morrison, an LA native who noticed that his city had numerous abandoned and empty newspaper kiosks and wanted to devise a way to re-purpose them.

After branding one such box with the Blockbuster logo, he gave it an inventory of DVDs and VHS movies and encouraged people to follow his lead. Virtually overnight, similar kiosks popped up all across the country. From Oklahoma to Virginia and a handful of other cities, ‘Free Blockbuster’ boxes seemed to sprout out of the concrete sidewalks with a quickness.

People are encouraged to take an item and leave an item – and it doesn’t have to be just movies. You can leave popcorn and candy if you want your fellow movie-watchers to have a tasty snack while they’re watching their VHS copy of 101 Dalmatians.

Brian Morrison launched to provide other potential Free Blockbuster ‘franchisees’ with the movements logo so they can re-purpose abandoned kiosks that they find in their local area. It’s Morrison’s hope that the movement continues to thrive and by converting old unsightly newspaper kiosks in urban areas people can help rehabilitate their cities of commercial blight.

The First Blockbuster Store Opened Because Of Unusual Circumstances

David Cook, an entrepreneur from Dallas Texas was still recovering from the collapse of the oil market in 1985 when his wife, Sandy, gave him a brilliant idea. Why not take his business-savvy market sense and find a new niche. Cook had written several computer programs to help manage inventory for some of the big oil companies, but after the market collapse, he was left with a huge pile of unpaid Invoices.

At the time, the home video market was exponentially expanding. VHS was still new and the public couldn’t get enough of it. Between 1983 to 1986, the number of independent video rental stores nearly tripled from 7,000 locations to over 19,000 locations.

It would seem the Cooks had finally found their niche. They decided that it was time to offer the world a video rental mega-store. After Sandy drew up the iconic blue and yellow logo, the first Blockbuster retail store opened on October 19, 1985, in Dallas, Texas. It was David’s goal to offer an inventory larger than any of the independent rental shops could offer.

Blockbuster Was The First Rental Store To Keep The Tapes On The Shelves

When rental stores first came on the scene back in the early 80s, shop owners quickly realized that they had a bit of a problem on their hands. Keeping the movie tapes in their boxes on the shelves proved to be too tempting of an opportunity for movie-lovers with sticky fingers, so most stores adopted a policy of keeping the video tapes behind the counter with the empty boxes being displayed on the merchandise shelves.

But when Blockbuster opened, their inventory was so vast that keeping all of the tapes behind the counter would have been infeasible. After all, their initial inventory was well over 10,000 titles. So they decided to keep the tapes on the shelves – eventually incorporating locking boxes to prevent theft. The system allowed for quicker transaction and turnover times for customers which vastly improved their Blockbuster video experience. The Cooks were obviously on to something. By 1988, there were over 400 locations.

Blockbuster Took A Stance Against Pornography

Unlike many independent video stores that had big neon signs and a set of swinging doors that led to a sketchy adult section in the back, Blockbuster abstained from offering their customers pornographic videos. It wasn’t exactly a moral issue but more of a business model idea that kept Blockbuster a smut-free zone. The Cooks really didn’t care if people watched porn but they didn’t want to sell it to their customers. They wanted families to feel comfortable taking their kids to the store without them getting an eyeful of something difficult to explain.

Hey, by the way, if you’re digging his video so far, make sure you show us a little support by giving it a like and subscribing to our channel. Oh yeah, and did you know that Blockbuster once tried to start their own amusement park? Keep watching to find out all about that and several other ideas that Blockbuster failed to get off the ground.

Blockbuster Got Sued By Nintendo

Over time, it became clear that if Blockbuster were to stay relevant then they should capitalize on the surging popularity of video games in the late 80s and early 90s. Game rentals soon made up a huge chunk of Blockbuster’s revenue but Nintendo had a problem with that.

The game company giant has a reputation for being exceptionally litigious, and in 1989 they made a strong statement when they sued Blockbuster for alleged copyright infringement. Their complaint hinged upon the fact that Blockbuster was photocopying games manuals after they got worn out or misplaced.

The two companies ended up settling out of court in 1994 and Nintendo completely flip-flopped on their anti-rental stance.

Blockbuster Made Bank On Late Fees

People are busy, overworked, and easily distracted – and it turns out that preying upon this fact is super profitable. Blockbuster made a huge chunk of their revenue in late fees. After the 1 to 3 day rental term had expired, customers were hit with pretty substantial financial penalties. In 2000, the company took in $800 million dollars in fines – which accounted for 16 percent of their total revenue.

In 2004, the company attempted to try out a new approach by declaring that they would no longer have late fees. Instead, after 8 days without the movie or game being returned, the customer would be charged the full MSRP purchase price of the media item. If a customer were to return the item within 30 days, the charges could be reversed but they were still hit with a hefty ‘restocking fee’.

Blockbuster Attempted To Become An Amusement Park

Cook always suspected that he would be able to expand his Blockbuster concept beyond just video rental. That’s why he named the company Blockbuster Entertainment in 1985. In 1994, Blockbuster corporate came up with the idea of an adult amusement park dubbed Blockbuster Block Party and opened a pilot location in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and another identical one in Indianapolis, Indian. They offered laser tag, motion simulator rides, arcade games, and even giant mazes but that wasn’t enough for the concept to catch on.

Blockbuster Banned Male Employees From Having Long Hair

In a controversial move starting in 1994, male employees at Blockbuster Music stores were told that they could no longer have long hair or wear earrings. Their manes could be no longer than 2 inches past their collars. Disgruntled and obstinate employees unwilling to abide by the new rule were terminated and many of them banded together to launch a class-action lawsuit. They eventually lost their case in an appeals court in 1998.

Blockbuster Turned Down Netflix’s Proposal To Unite

Netflix was just beginning its DVD-by-mail business model in 2000 when CEO Reed Hastings met with Blockbuster executives to propose an alliance between the two companies. He floated the idea that Netflix could oversee Blockbuster’s online efforts. But at the time, this seemed like a laughable idea. Blockbuster was such a huge company that they couldn’t see how Hasting’s offer could possibly provide any value to the multi-billionaire enterprise.

Blockbuster Attempted To Purchase Circuit CIty

In 2008, Blockbuster made a $1 billion offer to buy failing electronics big-box retailer Circuit City. The company turned down their offer and ended up filing for bankruptcy the very next year. Blockbuster must have caught whatever scourge Circuit City had because, in 2010, they managed to lose a billion dollars themselves and were forced into bankruptcy as well.

The Last Video Rented At Blockbuster Had An Ironic Title

Besides the few independently franchised locations that stayed open under the Blockbuster brand in name only, the last official Blockbuster closed its doors in November of 2013. Curious what the last movie rented was? Seth Rogan’s 2013 post-apocalyptic comedy This Is The End.

There couldn’t have been a more fitting titled film to carry that honor. Blockbuster posted a photo of that humorous moment on their Twitter – and yes, in case your wondering, that customer still had to return it.

I never thought I’d be saying this, but I actually kind of miss Blockbuster now. Those were simpler times, weren’t they? At least back then there weren’t 30 different streaming services all competing for our credit card info and when you rented a film, you appreciated it more because you had to put in all that effort to get it in the first place. I don’t think anyone misses late fees though.

Anyway, hopefully the Free Blockbuster Boxes catch on and start popping up in more cities. It’s times like these that people need a little bit of escape from the chaotic world we live in. Something as simple as a Free Blockbuster kiosk has great potential to lift someone’s spirits.

We’d love to hear from you! Do you miss the days of Blockbuster video stores or are you glad that they all went extinct? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

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