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Ron Kaye: RIP Blockbuster and human connectivity

November 15, 2013

Dish Network, its shares up 50% since March, soared to new highs on Wednesday just hours before its Blockbuster employees were showing up for work in the middle of the night for the opening day of the liquidation sale of DVDs and video games in the last 500 of what once was a 9,000-store chain.

It was the end of an era that began 30 years ago.

Video stores like chain book and music stores before them are victims of the Internet virus — Sam Goody, Tower, Glendale-based Licorice Pizza, Virgin Megastores, Wherehouse, Borders, Crown Books, Walton Books, B. Dalton… the list goes on and on and the job losses are staggering.

Where have all those people gone? Are they working in the warehouses of Amazon — the most destructive company that ever existed because it prefers to eliminate all competition and avoid taxation by never making much of a profit at least until the day comes when there is nowhere else to turn?

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Are we, the consumers, so averse to being among other people, of going out and about, that we have become agoraphobic or maybe just so lazy?

You would never have guessed that at 10 a.m. Thursday at Blockbuster's "flagship" store in the San Fernando Valley, there would be a mob scene of more than 100 customers scooping up handfuls of used DVDs at a 33% discount and used video games reduced 10% or cover inserts for 20 cents each or anything else that was portable from TVs to display cases.

As he rang up sales and clambered up and down an aluminum ladder to remove equipment hanging from the ceiling, the manager of my local Blockbuster was his usual cheery self, unfazed by getting his dismissal notice in an email, unfazed by being at work since 3 a.m. to get his store ready.

"Pride," Robert Sprout said, "That's what makes this store so special, why we survived right up to the end."

After a pause, he added: "And it's fun….Wasn't it Sir Isaac Newton who said, 'If you love your job you never work a day in your life.' It's that way for me."

Actually it was Confucius, but why quibble. The point was well taken. Sprout loved his job, and created an atmosphere in his well-run store that made it fun. He greeted customers, offered his opinion on movies, asked what movies they liked lately.

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