It’s the ’90s. It’s Friday night. And there we are, like every Friday night – yours truly and the Better Half and the Rotten Kids, wandering around, enjoying the ritual. Looking forward to finding another gem for the weekend ahead.
No we’re not digging for gold, or even shopping at “Toys Were Us.” It’s a fondly shared remembrance with a part of most people’s past in that once ubiquitous blue and yellow store that doesn’t really exist anymore.
Still not sure? Three capital letters should do it: VHS.
Yep, I’m talking about Blockbuster. The go-to place to rent video tapes to take home and slide into the old VHS player. Fifteen years ago there were 9,000 Blockbuster video rental stores worldwide. Today, the world’s last Blockbuster is still chugging along in Bend, Oregon, which is the sixth largest city in Oregon, and almost exactly the same size as Red Deer.
Sad, really. Changes in technology have dramatically flipped the way we all get to watch movies at home upside down, that’s for sure. I mean, a monthly fee and two clicks on the remote and BOOM, Netflix and a mid-boggling bunch of endless digital voodoo black magic cyberspace entities stream right onto your screen. You don’t even have to move anything but your thumb, let alone get in the car and drive down to Blockbuster to get the latest motion picture eye candy at home.
But back then, when the world was small and the kids were little, our weekly traditional trip to Blockbuster was some kind of special. In fact we were talking about that the other day. The RKs saying how much fun it was to look forward to picking out the latest shall we say, “block buster,” or re-rent a favorite game or movie for the seventh week in a row.
Whether it was Home Alone or Toy Story for the kids or Titanic or Good Will Hunting for us or Jurassic Park or Mr. Bean for the whole fam damily, a stack of those book-sized VHS movies made many a weekend just that much better.
But when Monday came, those tapes better be back in the return slot down at Blockbuster or you got dinged with late fees. Trust me, I know from personal experience. Oh, and don’t forget to “be kind and rewind.” Yes, you young readers, videotapes had to be rewound, or supposedly there was a rewind fee. That may have been just a bluff, however – I don’t remember ever being charged for the sin of failing to press REW.
But now, only one iconic Buster of Blocks is left in the whole world, and apparently they don’t plan on closing down anytime soon. In fact, in an article this week I read the last Blockbuster was hosting ‘90s-themed slumber parties.
That’s right, for the princely sum of $4, which serendipitously, is almost exactly what Blockbuster originally charged for a three day movie rental, you can stay overnight in the store which will have a “pull-out couch, beanbags and pillows” as well as popcorn, pop and “nostalgic” snacks, like Nerds and other candy involving 99.9 per cent sugar. Oh, and of course, a Blockbuster party wouldn’t be complete without including all the movie hits from the 1990s that you can possibly pull off the shelves and watch during the sleepover.
So if you’re interested in literally rewinding the way-back machine, the big party takes place over three days in the middle of September, and will be COVID conscientious, assures store manager, Sandi Harding, who has been working at the store for 16 years.
And if you go, for Pete’s sake – don’t forget to rewind!
Harley Hay is a Red Deer author and filmmaker.