Internet killed the video star

Anthony Schnettler, left, and Giovanni Soto outside of a closing Blockbuster in Cheney. - YOUNG KWAK
Young Kwak
Anthony Schnettler, left, and Giovanni Soto outside of a closing Blockbuster in Cheney.

Movies and videogames slowly disappear from the clearance racks. Straight-to-DVD flops wait alongside TV series collections with missing discs. Candy, popcorn and posters overfill bargain boxes as customers pick half-heartedly through the remains.

Across the front of the Blockbuster Video in Cheney hangs a bright yellow banner: “Store closing.”

Video rental stores once ruled movie night. We hunted well-stocked aisles with an electric sense of possibility. By the thousands amassed rows and rows of films unseen: comedies, campy horror flicks, Disney classics and the coveted New Releases.

Picking a movie was a team effort. Together we scoured the shelves, comparing titles and actors, systematically narrowing our selections. We bickered and bargained over our choices, seeking out a laugh, a good scare or just a mindless escape.

Upon consensus, we took the empty videocassette box up to the counter to exchange it for the real copy in a plastic case. Maybe we snagged a box of Milk Duds or licorice at the register. With DVDs and Blu-ray, the ritual remained the same.

But those days have gone.

Mail-order subscriptions like Netflix, Redbox-type vending machines and online video streaming have replaced movie rentals in recent years. Families now gather around computer screens for movie night. Couples curl up with their laptops.

Just two Blockbuster Video rental stores remain in the Spokane area. The Cheney location closes this weekend. The last store, the North Side Wandermere location, expects to shut its doors in April.

“Blockbuster is transforming to give customers ultimate access to home entertainment,” the company website states. “We’re not just about brick and mortar stores anymore.”

Inside the Cheney store, empty wire shelving stretches the length of one full wall. “Pre-viewed” movies go for $1.99. A folding table sits piled high with loose DVD discs, empty cases and office equipment.

Filing cabinets, office chairs and display racks have also been marked for sale. Nearby a fax machine is priced at $75. Everything must go. All sales final.

Tanner Roberts and two friends haggle with the manager over several sections of shelving along with some fixtures, display cases and other supplies. The young entrepreneurs plan to open their own videogame store next month called Press Start to Play.

“Almost all of the stuff in our store is going to be Blockbuster,” Roberts admits.

All three walk out with towering armfuls and bulging bags of movies, gaming books, empty plastic cases — seeds for their new dream.

Wearing sweatpants, Jesse Soto, 20, casually peruses the discounted selections. He and his friends pick out a couple videogames. They also grab a bag of candy.

“Cheap,” he says on his way out. “Pretty cheap in there.”

Dozens of other visitors carry off their own salvaged escapes — cult classics, childhood favorites and stoner comedies — stripping the doomed store with every purchase.

In dark blue polo shirts, the employees ring up the items and make small talk. Yes, they’re really closing. Yes, for good. Yes, it sucks. The empty store gets emptier.

Over across the street, out in front of the nearby gas station, a Redbox machine hums smugly. 

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About The Author

Jacob Jones

Staff writer Jacob Jones covers criminal justice, natural resources, military issues and organized labor for the Inlander.