A few weeks ago Blockbuster announced that they were shutting down for good. And thus marks the end of the last big movie rental chain. Now I never had the experience of working for Blockbuster but I did work for several years at Movie Gallery. And it was quite an adventure working there. In memory of Blockbuster, here are some tales of my days as your friendly movie rental clerk.
Free movie rentals – I got to watch all the newest releases before they were released for free and then I could watch all the back listed titles as well. As a movie lover, this was a HUGE bonus and helped to increase my movie knowledge. I discovered lots of little indie gems along the way that I would have never found otherwise. I also got a bunch of a movie posters that still grace my bedroom back in my parents’ house.
Buying discounts – We ran several used DVD sales (buy 2 get 2 free) and since I worked there, I could take advantage of seeing which DVDs had been rented and which copies had never been touched. Therefore I got several brand new DVDs for very discounted prices. And since we got discounts on food/drink, I will admit there was a time when Sprite Remix (remember that!) ran a promotion and the prize was on their bottle cap. So as it’s a clear liquid, I spent an afternoon and looked through the bottom of the bottle to find what the prizes were so I could buy the bottle. And the prize was..free movie rentals at Blockbuster!
I got to meet Marion Jones, the well… disgraced Olympian. She came into the store and set up and account and everything with me.
Giving recommendations – There were times when customers were actually receptive to listening to what I suggested. And it was fun to get to know regulars who trusted my movie advice and trivia.
Being good at this. It was a VERY minimum wage job and I knew I definitely wasn’t going to do it forever but it was helping me through undergrad and I enjoyed it. I got paid to watch movies and for the most part it wasn’t horrible. I was the top seller and I got to be a manager and it was fine for what it was.
Now there were several differences between Movie Gallery and Blockbuster. I mean first off, the name. Movie Gallery and Blockbuster are obviously two different names. And yet, we would get people dropping off Blockbuster movies all the time. It’s one thing to stick it in the slot after hours. But to walk INTO the store?
Movie Gallery also had a back room for …well we’ll call them grown up movies to not attract the spam bots. Yep. That was a thing. I did not like going back there to reshelve and I always used hand sanitizer after checking in/out movies. The most awkward moments happened when people would hand me Asian grown up movies to check out. And I’m like, well let’s make this transaction happen very quickly.
Late movies – People will come up with all sorts of excuses as to why they haven’t returned a movie yet. Also awkward was when someone had a grown up movie that was late and the spouse didn’t realize they had checked it out. Just a note: if you’re going to do that, don’t check these out on the family account.
Apparently there are hundreds if not thousands of people who drive around without their license. How do I know this? By the MANY people who tried to open up accounts and when I asked for identification, they didn’t have any picture IDs on them (yet everyone seems to carry around a Social Security card). Yet all those people drove to the store. It was severely tempting to call the cops on them after they left.
Now Movie Gallery didn’t have those programs where you could rent all you want or no late fees. No, we had a stupid discount rental card where for $19 you got $27 worth of rentals. And we had to sell those. I somehow managed to be the top seller but do you know how hard it is to promote something that is essentially not really a good deal? I think I conned a lot of people.
Getting asked out by customers – I got asked out over the phone by a customer and then another left me a note on the car. Neither were ones I would have considered going out with (and not to worry, they were not one of those who checked out the Asian grown up movies) plus the fact that they do it in person was also a strike in their favor. The ones I actually wanted to, never did though.
Trying to explain why widescreen was better than full screen was a failure. This was back when DVDs were still offering both versions and customers would always complain about the black bars. Also trying to recommend a foreign film was like offering poison, no one will take it because they don’t want to “read a movie”.
Getting yelled at by customers. I got yelled at lot because customers had late fees or didn’t return movies on time or because we didn’t have the movie they wanted. My absolute favorite was calling the late list and there was a lady who was insistent that she had returned the movie, started yelling at me, told me I was worthless because I was working in a movie rental store and she was a successful business woman etc. Then lo and behold two hours later, her husband comes into the store with the movie and apologized for her as it had been on his side of the nightstand. That’s right lady, don’t show your face.
Being held up at gunpoint. Yeah you read that right. It was a Friday night (April Fool’s day, no less) and I was shift manager and I was prepping the new releases for the upcoming week, and I clearly remember one of those movies being Sideways. The door rang, I said my spiel of “Hello, welcome to Movie Gallery”, I look up and there’s a gun being pointed at me. I remember time slowing down and everything freezing. My insides immediately stopped working and I went on auto pilot. The guy (turned out to be a teenager) was wearing a hood and covered his face and told me to give him the money in the drawer. I went over the cashier, tried to catch the eye of my coworker and he told me to stop. I took out the money, luckily I had just done a cash drop so there was maybe like $150 in there. I asked him if he wanted the change as well. Then he ran out the store. It wasn’t until about 2 hours later that I started shaking. And that was the last night I worked at Movie Gallery. What a way to go out! For the record, they did catch the guys, they were robbing a bunch of movie stores all over the area.
And that’s just some of my adventures working at the video rental store. It’s sad to think that my kids will never be able to experience that and it will just be a legend when I tell them these stories. RIP movie rental stores.