Wednesday 28 Sep 2016

Blockbuster is Dead
Matt Seinberg

This past week, on 27 November 2013, it was announced that Dish Network was pulling the plug on Blockbuster LLC, its subsidiary. The misery for Blockbuster ends by January 2014. This passing was a long time coming.

I had worked at a small independent video store in Westbury on Saturday nights for a number of years and enjoyed it. There was no competition in the neighborhood. The store did very well. Two brothers owned the store; they saw an opportunity and grabbed it.

I was paid $6 an hour plus two video rentals for each hour worked. The only condition was they had to be back in the store the next morning. I built up quite a video collection, in those days; as I could watch everything, I made copies.

When I was looking for a job, I answered an ad for Blockbuster. This is that story.

I worked briefly for Blockbuster Entertainment, its name in those days, for less than a year; that was around 2004. It was among the worst jobs I had, ever. The district manger that hired me promised the world; it turned out to be nothing but lies. She promised me a “good store”; I got one of the worst ones on Long Island.

The store, where I trained, was in Hicksville, New York, only 10 minutes from my house. The only good part of working for Blockbuster was working with a great crew at that store. The manager, assistants and staff were terrific; I hoped I could talk my way into staying there after training.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. After three months of training, I took over a store on Old Country Road in Westbury, NY, where I used to live. It was by far the worst store in the district. It had been without a manager for a couple of months; the assistant manager who was running it couldn’t keep up.

The store was short-handed when I got there; hiring good, experienced, honest people wasn’t easy. In fact, this store was known for being one of the highest theft stores on Long Island, but it was all mine: oh lucky me.

Because of the high theft rate, the store was required to do an inventory every month, starting at 6 am and went until we opened at 10 am. Do you know how hard it was to get the employees into the store at that ungodly hour? It was very difficult, and it finally reached a break point the last month I was there.

I couldn’t get anyone to come in and do the inventory, nor could I beg, borrow or steal anyone from the surrounding stores, and the district manager was of no help. Even though it was against company policy to do an inventory alone, I had no choice.

I don’t even remember if I got it done, or even correctly for that matter. Their computer system was ancient by today’s standards, running on DOS and not even any version of Windows. I just prayed and hoped for the best.

About a week later, I show up to open the store and I see my district manager (DM) and another DM talking in the far reaches of the parking lot. I knew this meant only one thing; it was company policy to fire a store manager with two DMs present. Today was my day.

Luckily, I was searching for another job and found one, but it wasn’t going to start for another month or so. I open up the store, and a few minutes later two DMs were outside, banging on the door, wanting to get inside. I figure I’ll make this quick and painless and not let them drag out my firing.

As my DM starts talking, telling me how this isn’t working out, I just put up my hand to stop her. I told her that I don’t need her long-winded speech; this job sucked and how she lied to me about it. I handed her my keys and walked out, leaving her with a stunned look on her face.

I later found out through other Blockbuster people that she cleaned out the store of all my employees, business tanked and the company fired her. Talk about poetic justice. I later ran into her at a job fair, and it took everything I had to be civil to her.

I wasted eight months there. I ended up having to fight them over collecting unemployment benefits. Luckily, the New York State Unemployment division caseworker believed me and not them, awarding me all my benefits.

When I heard that the chain was closing, I did a little dance of joy. Blockbuster treated employees awfully. It made employees work ridiculous hours.

Here’s an example. It was a Saturday night and snowing. No, it was more like a blizzard, with white out conditions. You would think that we would get a phone call to close early so everyone could get home safely.

We closed at 1 am on Saturday nights, but that didn’t mean we left right away. We still had to check in all the tapes and DVDs, vacuum the store, clean the counters, stock all the candy, soda and make the store look presentable for the next day. We didn’t get out until 3 am. The blizzard was still raging outside, and I have no idea how I made it home without getting into an accident.

Blockbuster killed itself a long time ago by not keeping up with the times. Netflix and other on demand video services finally put the last nails in the coffin. While I feel bad for all the people who are losing their jobs, this company deserved to die, and it didn’t die a pretty death.

Matt Seinberg lives on Long Island, a few minutes east of New York City. He looks at everything around him and notices much. Somewhat less cynical than dyed in the wool New Yorkers, Seinberg believes those who don't see what he does like reading about what he sees and what it means to him. Seinberg columns revel in the silly little things of life and laughter as well as much well-directed anger at inept, foolish public officials. Mostly, Seinberg writes for those who laugh easily at their own foibles as well as those of others.

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