Donald MacInnes: The sad tale of how video shops went bust on your block

  • @DonaldAMacInnes

My damp-eyed remembrance last week of the role in my past of what seemed to be a disappearing HMV may have been a little premature, given this week's Hilco move, but the chain's troubles remain typical of the condition of many high street behemoths. And your response to last week's detour up Memory Cul-de-sac showed many of you feel the same way about our desiccated parade of well-known shopping brands.

Another name which holds umpteen memories for me is Blockbuster. Personally, I find the death of this high temple of home entertainment the most – but perhaps the least – surprising of all the recent horror stories.

For years and years, Blockbuster seemed unstoppable. Prior to its advent, we had been used to renting our movies from the local "video store", which in reality was one half of the local newsagent utilised to scoop up the massive loot to be had in the early Eighties video boom. I feel so old even writing that.

If your local video shop was actually dedicated to movies, it was usually quite a slapdash affair called Ritzy Vidz or Video Planet or similar and the video covers were generic photocopies, with the name of the film written in biro down the spine. In the corner would sit a hefty chap, a bit like Comic Book Guy in The Simpsons, chain-smoking fags and gazing bleakly at a little TV fixed high in a corner playing Fist of Fury or some other Bruce Lee thwack-a-thon.

Then, of course, came Blockbuster. Suddenly your video shop was part of a chain, which I recall seemed a little off-kilter at the time; a bit like your local barber shop suddenly becoming a shiny, glamorous, US-owned mega-chain. Blockbuster even had its own smell, the way McDonald's has its own aroma. It was like they pumped this branded Blockbuster pong out of the air ducts – a combination of popcorn, money and anxiety that all of the copies of Days of Thunder would be out. It was brightly lit, massively expensive and apparently unassailable.

But then the internet appeared and Blockbuster fell on its bright blue and yellow arse, principally because people realised paying £3.75 to rent a movie for the night made little sense when you could download it for keeps for nothing.

For the perfect extrapolation of why this happened, I refer you to last year's South Park episode called "A Nightmare on Face Time", where Stan's dad Randy buys a derelict Blockbuster and tries to resurrect the brand, only to go mad (think Jack Nicholson in The Shining-mad) at the utter futility of it all. Let's hope Hilco doesn't suffer the same fate…