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As someone who spent several miserable years in the early and mid-1990s working for Blockbuster Video, few people were happier than me to see the company finally go belly-up back in January. It was hard to love Blockbuster if you really loved movies, because the stores carried a homogenized selection of occasionally edited titles from one location to the next – and destroyed pretty much every cool little Mom & Pop video rental hut in their quest to dominate the market. However, not all of the Blockbusters are gone – the evil empire lives on, barely, in isolated parts of the country thanks to independent licensees like Alan Payne, who altogether, still operate about 50 stores.
Payne owns more than 20 what are referred to as "BINOs", or Blockbusters in Name Only. The stores are located in places like Texas, Alaska, and the Dakotas, and were originally franchise stores, but with the dissolution of Blockbuster, Inc. Payne is now just a licensee – he writes a check to pay for the privilege of using the Blockbuster name every month, but he’s on his own after that. The store owner recently chatted with Yahoo! Movies about what’s it’s like to own one of the last tiny pieces of American cinematic history.
At the height of their reign of terror, Blockbuster owned over 9,000 stores and had a market value of over $5 billion dollars. A series of poor choices in the ‘90s and early part of this century, including rapid over-expansion, changes in technology and the way people watch movies, and passing on the opportunity to buy a little company called Netflix were the dagger that finally put them out of their misery. The company that was once worth $5 billion wound up sold to Dish Network for $320 million in 2010. The writing was already on the wall by that point.
Despite the preference for streaming movies these days, Payne’s stores hang on – and actually get a lot of foot traffic during the weekend. The locations do good business in places like Alaska, where broadband is expensive and the idea of streaming all of your video needs isn’t exactly cost effective.
Still, Payne seems to realize his stores’ days are numbered even in these isolated outposts. His company, Border Entertainment, currently has 23 locations. Last year, it was 26. In 2009, it was 43. The video store has become a relic of America’s past, like home milk delivery or $.25 a gallon gasoline. We’ll all tell our grandchildren marvelous tales about how back in our day, we had to get in the car and drive across town on a Friday night just to rent Happy Gilmore – and there was a chance the store might not even have a copy in. If they didn’t, we might have to settle for Erin Brockovich. If we forgot to return it by midnight the next day, we got charged extra. If we didn’t rewind it, we got charged extra (this is where you’ll have to explain the concept of rewinding movies to your grandkids…). They’ll ooh and aah at our tale in polite, disinterested fashion – then they’ll go stream Netflix on their iPhone 17 or Oculus Rift VR headset.