One-time scourge of mom and pop video stores goes under


It's a bittersweet day for film fans: Blockbuster, for decades the bane of the independent video store, is going out of business.

The video rental and sale company – valued at $9 billion at its height – will end its mail-in service in mid-December and close its remaining 300 stores in January 2014. That includes the three remaining Austin locations: North Lamar, William Cannon, and Research Boulevard.

In a statement Joseph P. Clayton, president and chief executive officer of Blockbuster owner Dish, said, "This is not an easy decision, yet consumer demand is clearly moving to digital distribution of video entertainment."

The firm will continue to operate the Blockbuster Home service and the streaming Blockbuster on Demand. Clayton said, "Despite our closing of the physical distribution elements of the business, we continue to see value in the Blockbuster brand, and we expect to leverage that brand as we continue to expand our digital offerings."

The once-mighty chain was founded in 1985 in Dallas, and opened its first warehouse in Garland. It became an international brand, but, decimated by a combination of Netflix and Redbox, the chain has been in constant retreat for years. It filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2010 with a reported $900 million debt. Finally it was purchased in 2011 by Dish Network for $320 million. Dish started a store reduction policy, through a mixture of natural attrition as leases expired and actual closures, with a end goal of 1,500 rental outlets. However, that proved to be woefully optimistic. In August of this year, they announced they would be cutting down to 300 streetfront operations, but now even those will close.

At its mid-’90s height, Blockbuster was the go-to store for video and DVD rentals. Seen by many as the Walmart of home entertainment, it pushed independent stores across the nation out of business.

But there's an alternative take. Blockbuster was like Hot Topic: If you lived in a big city, it was easy to mock its mall take on alternative culture. But for many people, Blockbuster was the only place they could rent videos, and in the pre-Netflix era it provided an undeniable role in getting movies to the masses.

There has been a certain amount of schadenfreude about its slow demise: Not least in Austin, when its UT store on Guadalupe closed, while mere blocks away Vulcan Video and I Luv Video survived on loyal audiences. But it's touchy news for the estimated 2,800 employees nationwide who will lose their jobs.

The departure of this leviathan, as much damage as it may have left in its wake, is undoubtedly the end of an era. All that is left now is what normally happens when such closures are announced: the inevitable selling off of the discs.

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