Quick-Turn Feature Story
It’s been a decade since the last Blockbuster was open in Athens, but many residents still remember the video store chain fondly and with a certain nostalgia. This sign, located near the Athens West Shopping Center, is one of the last local remains of the franchise. (Photo/Jillian Tracy)
One of Athens’ Blockbuster was located in the Athens West Shopping Center at 3190 Atlanta Highway. (Photo/Jillian Tracy)
Another Blockbuster was located at 1045 Gaines School Road. This address is now occupied by a Dunkin' Donuts located in the parking lot of a shopping center.(Photo/Jillian Tracy)
By Jillian Tracy
Why It's Newsworthy: Blockbuster, at its peak, helped millions of customers meet their entertainment needs. Now, with streaming services dominating the entertainment industry, Netflix is airing a documentary about the last store in the video and game rental chain.
The logo itself conjures nostalgia for some generations. A contrast of deep, confident blue and bright, pure yellow fill in the shape of a ticket stub that holds one word in bold, blocky print: Blockbuster.
The last Blockbuster store in Athens closed in 2011, but even a decade later, Athenians still remember the impact the video rental chain had on their lives.
“Just kind of like a Mecca for kids,” said Thomas Barton, 35, who has lived in Athens since 1991.
Barton looked forward to his family’s Friday night trips to Blockbuster’s former store on Atlanta Highway in Athens. The excitement would build all week to see the newest film releases and try the newest video games.
“It was pretty great to go in and see people you knew in school,” Barton said. “I always see at least one or two people doing the same thing.”
Netflix released on March 15 “The Last Blockbuster,” a 2020 documentary film about the downfall of the popular chain and its last remaining store in Bend, Oregon.
The film follows the day-to-day operations of the Blockbuster in Bend beginning in 2017 and includes commentary from former Blockbuster employees, some of whom have become film and TV celebrities, about their love for the store.
“(Going to Blockbuster) would be our real-life experience,” said Taylor Potter, 22, a senior entertainment and media studies and film studies major from Acworth, Georgia. “We couldn't really go to the movies by ourselves and we didn't want to just watch TV. So (it) was our way … to make a Netflix for ourselves before we knew what Netflix was.”
Similar to many college students, Potter grew up in the early 2000s, a time when Blockbuster was a vital part of the entertainment and movie rental industry.
“We would spend too much time, honestly, to pick out a film, wandering the aisles of all the VHS tapes, trying to figure out which one we wanted to watch,” said Potter.
Blockbuster filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2010, after years of acquiring debt from poor management decisions. The business did not have enough capital to compete with newer companies, like Netflix, despite trying to build a bigger digital platform, former Chief Financial Officer Tom Casey said in the documentary.
Between platforms like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, YouTube TV and HBO, the amount of content is more than the shelves of one Blockbuster store could hold.
Although streaming is more convenient, some say it removes the urgency that comes with choosing a movie in a physical store.
“When you go to Blockbuster you have to make the decision to go there, you have to make a decision while you're there of a film or films that you're going to rent,” said Potter. “Whereas, with streaming ... there's way less activity involved independently or socially to watch something.”
Despite the ocean of content, many still lovingly remember, and at times yearn for, the opportunity to visit a place that was equal parts business and community hub.
“There'll be a little space for it, in some book or on whatever Wikipedia might be or (have)] evolved into,” said Barton. “It'll have its little place in history, like most things.”
Athenians Reflect on Blockbuster Era Amid New Documentary on Netflix
This story features "How I Wrote This" commentary, detailing the ins and outs of my reporting process.
"Why It's Newsworthy: We were assigned to do a quick turn feature story that would be due 24 hours after we pitched it. I sort of pitched this as a joke, just thinking how fun it would be to talk about Blockbuster in light of this new documentary, but then ended up really wanting the idea to get approved. When I was reporting on it, I felt like I was doing investigative work— driving to old locations, trying to pinpoint the exact buildings and recreating in my mind the presence that Blockbuster once had in Athens.
"Last Blockbuster store in Athens": I was really interested to hear what other people would have to say about their Blockbuster experiences. I always look back on my own time with the chain very fondly, but I also recognize that I only had five or six years of Blockbuster experience while other people had double that much time or more. I was curious if anyone looked back on Blockbuster with negative experiences. Most people agreed that streaming services are more convenient but they can't emulate the grandiose event of getting to go to Blockbuster.
"Too much time": This line made me chuckle because I too remember spending what seemed like hours in my local Blockbuster, begging my siblings to agree to the movie I wanted. So many times as a journalist, you're trying to understand issues that are foreign to you or trying to best explain issues to readers that they may not be familiar with. Writing this was piece was fun because I understood the feelings that my sources were describing; we were all sharing a collective experience and memory that united us as members of a certain historical and generational tribe.
"To visit a place": In the era of COVID-19, it felt ironic to be talking about a place that thrived on physical interactions. In a way, I think the documentary came out at just the right time; a time where people are already nostalgic for going to places in person again. We were already reflecting back to more normal times, so thinking back a few more years to the time of Blockbuster was an easy and seemingly joyful task.
"Try the newest video games": For this story, I sourced mainly off of Facebook. I found a local group and posted asking if anyone remembered when the Blockbusters were still open in Athens. I was surprised by the outpour of responses; everyone was sharing fond memories. I also didn't realize that Blockbuster was such a big community for finding games as well. I had always thought of it as a place for movies but a lot of the people that reached out said it was one of the best places in town to trade in or try out new console games.
"Last local remains": I had heard conflicting rumors about this sign: some people said it had been taken down, others said they thought it was still up, so I had to go out and see it for myself. The sign itself is hard to access by foot and is covered from certain angles by trees. The photo was taken through the window of my car (not while I was driving of course). I found it both hilarious and slightly eerie that no one has thought to take the sign down in the last decade.