The racks in Hollywood’s last Blockbuster were empty except for the rack in the front, which had the distinction of holding the DVDs of television shows that as yet no one had bought in the store-closing sale. Along with some Lost and some Nurse Jackie there was an inordinate amount of 24, and Kiefer Sutherland squinted masculinely from behind the paper signs that said “After 94% Discounts, You Pay $.99” — in marker over and under that message, someone had written, for emphasis, “99¢.” A you’re-all-fired sale.
When I got there, Sailyn and Blair (who did not want their last names published) were sitting out front with some furniture from the store that was also for sale. Blair was wearing her navy Blockbuster polo, but for his last day, Sailyn was wearing an Angels T-shirt. I mentioned that I had heard about a vigil being held at the Blockbuster. Blair laughed, and Sailyn said, “What the hell is a vigil?” I said it was something people usually did when someone died.
“Oh, Jesus!” he said.
People who came later for the vigil suggested that the movie rental store had succumbed to the internet, but this Blockbuster shared a block with a soon-to-be La Brea/Wilshire metro station that needed the street space, so the immediate cause of death was not enervation but transportation. The store was set to close in September; the employees found out a few months ago (Blair and Sailyn said two or three months ago, Jah’lon Escudero said “end of February”) that the date had been changed and they had until April to get out.
“This is just a bit abrupt,” said Escudero, who’s worked at various Blockbusters since 2004.
Sailyn, the assistant manager, said he could have transferred to a different Blockbuster, but then, “I’d be closing another store in three to six months.” The nearest Blockbuster is in Culver City, and after that, there’s Burbank.
Sailyn hinted (his co-workers outright stated) that he was the top Blockbuster salesman in the L.A. area. “It makes no sense why you wouldn’t have a store in your best area,” Sailyn said, noting that this location was the most profitable Blockbuster around. Then he told me about a customer who used to come in the store three to five times a day and switch out the movies he watched while he worked from home. I asked him where he thought that guy went.
“He’s probably working at home without any movies,” Sailyn said, but I wonder if he was thinking that he probably got a Netflix account.
When I was looking at the children’s movies that were left, including several Christmas titles and something called Rock & Bop with the Doodlebops, I asked a browser if he had been to this Blockbuster before. No, he said, he lives in the Valley, but he happened to drive by today, and “I always come to these things.” Dan Cerny told me he had a Netflix account, but he didn’t really use it because picking out a movie to watch is “a mood thing.” By the time a Netflix DVD shows up in the mail, “I’m not in the same mindset,” Cerny explained. He also told me about his new VCR machine. “I usually buy more VHS than anything else,” he said. “DVDs? They scratch. The boxes aren’t cool.”
“You can’t get everything on DVD. It’s a misconception.”
Before he walked out of the store, Cerny handed me a 99-cent copy of The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, a documentary about Donkey Kong. “For you,” he said. (When I put it in my DVD player later, the trailer for Be Kind Rewind was the first thing I saw.)
Mariana Guerrero, who was sitting on the floor, said, “Blockbuster’s still alive in Mexico.”
“It’s not as,” she trailed off, and turned to Jay Osterman, who was sitting next to her. “What’s the word?”
“It’s not as outdated,” Osterman offered.
After I counted 27 copies of Greenberg on the shelf reserved for DVDs in paper sleeves, I went outside to talk to Blair again. We watched a skinny blond girl walk into the store tell her friends loudly, “I’m not surprised at all.”
No one seemed to agree on when the store was actually closing, and it was well after 5 p.m. when a man in a newsboy cap loitered with a copy of Bait Shop so that he could be the last person to buy a movie from this Blockbuster. I asked Blair about all the empty shelves, and she said, “You get the feeling of how much we did have for people.” Evan, a wiry employee who wore a fedora and held a Red Bull and wouldn’t tell me his last name, told me about a customer who used to come into the Larchmont store with an iguana.
I decided to leave a little after Sailyn and Mike went to go pick up food and another co-worker’s Bernese mountain dog for the farewell party. Everyone who worked at that Blockbuster had come to the store at the end of the last day. They were all in the group photo on the manager’s phone, including the back of the head of the woman who didn’t want to be in the picture. Some time before I left, Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” started playing over the speakers. I told Sailyn the song seemed appropriate, and he gestured to an empty spot on the wall.
“If we would’ve had the television set there, we would’ve played the Doors concert,” he says. “And the last song he plays is The End.”