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At Blockbuster, for-sale fixtures and the end of a ritual

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Blockbuster is no beloved book or record store, and its passing will mostly be mourned ironically.

“Cozy” isn’t a word normally associated with a going-out-of-business sale, but that’s how it felt Saturday afternoon as a cold drizzle fell outside the Blockbuster video store in Uptown Minneapolis. Inside, an unmistakable shelter-from-the-storm warmth prevailed, spiked by bright lights and movie memorabilia, and the kind of lollygagging and browsing by a scant few curiosity-seekers that’s normally fostered only in bookstores and record stores.    

But Blockbuster is no beloved book or record store, and its passing will mostly be mourned ironically, as it was over the weekend in a “Saturday Night Live” skit in which Blockbuster employees gorge on Blockbuster licorice and end up working for Best Buy.

No, they never had the movies you wanted and the late fees were insane and its soulless hawking of Hollywood hits is a far cry from Filmzilla/Nicollet Village, the Movies on 35th Street (which still exists), the legendary Discount Video, or any of the other independent video stores that have bitten the dust in the wake of Netflix, Hulu Plus, Redbox, YouTube, and the rest of the streaming universe.

So when Blockbuster announced the closing of its last four stores in the metro area, including the one at 2224 Hennepin Ave., there wasn’t exactly an outcry from the community. Good riddance, right? Nothing to miss when, in mid-January, the blazing blue and yellow doors shutter for good, along with the rest of the Blockbuster stores and distribution centers around the country, right?

“I’m heartbroken,” said Danielle Mora, a barista at the Starbucks next door to Blockbuster. “It means I have to get the Internet and Netflix, and that’s going to cost me more than [at Blockbuster], because I had the free monthly pass. We’ve grown attached to everyone there. It was literally like going to a coffee shop: ‘Is Brad working today? Is Rob?’ And now you don’t have that. And it’s that whole childhood thing; you go to the store with your parents. And now we won’t be able to do that.”

Blockbuster is wedged into a strip mall with neighbors ADT Dental, Nails, Papa John’s Pizza, Starbuck’s, Caribou Coffee, and Five Guys. The signs plastered on the windows outside tell the tale: “Entire Store On Sale!” “Everything Must Go!” “All previously viewed DVDs, fixtures, furniture, and equipment for sale!”

sale photo
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
A white board touting the dregs of the inventory.

Inside, a white board touting the dregs of the inventory (fax machine, candy machines, DVD cases, a ladder) is propped up against the last new-release board touting Tuesday’s titles, including “The World’s End.” Hanging on the walls are a half-dozen generic movie star posters, all for $25 (Gene Wilder as Willie Wonka has a waiting list of three; Whoopi Goldberg and Arnold Schwarzenegger are spoken for, but you can walk out with Meryl Streep or Julie Andrews right now).

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Whoopi Goldberg is spoken for.

When it’s all gone, something else will be in its cavernous place, and a couple generations’ ritual of going to the video store to physically pick and choose and congregate with other customers or employees will go with it.

“Sorry you won’t be here anymore, I’m sad about it but times change,” said a curt customer matter-of-factly on her way out the door to one of Blockbuster’s crestfallen employees, who didn’t want to give her name, but did share her plans for the future.

“I’m going to learn how to ice fish,” she said, sifting through a stack of DVDs. “I’ve lived in Minnesota my entire life, but I’ve never tried it, and this winter I’m going to finally have time to do some ice fishing.”

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