EDINBURG — A long wait inside a Blockbuster video store is not something patrons have experienced for quite some time and — at least for people in Texas — it’s expected to be the last time ever.
Rick and Liz Cavazos, both 39 and of McAllen, and the three employees still remaining at the store furiously worked behind cash registers to “kill the line,” that wrapped around the walls of the soon-to-be-closed-for-good store, which is having a liquidation sale.
The couple, who met in the summer of 1999 when Rick filled-in for another employee at the store Liz worked at, spent the last two decades working for the company with the blue and yellow ticket logo and manage the video rental company’s Edinburg location, the last one in the state. They said the idea of the store shutting down was just now sinking in.
“I hate to say it. It’s going to be gone — I owe (the store) a great debt because I met my wife (here), I’m obligated to say it was the most fun job in the world, I enjoyed it — years felt like days … I saw customers (and) crew members grow up,” Rick said.
The couple, who married and have three children, loved coming to work so much over the years that even their teenage daughter, Jackie Cavazos, 16, worked for them last summer.
The crowds that poured into Blockbuster, located at the corner of Sugar Road and Freddie Gonzalez Drive, on Saturday came on the heels of news that it was shuttering its doors, leaving only one other store in the continental United States — located in Bend, Oregon — and only six operating in Alaska.
Alan Payne, 65, of Austin, the president of Border Entertainment, which owns the Edinburg store and the remaining video stores in Alaska, stood amongst the hordes of customers as they perused aisles full of movie titles not as easily available on the internet or the multitude of streaming services, the very technology that ultimately made video stores like the ones Payne owns outdated.
“It’s sad,” Payne said of closing the last store in Texas, where Blockbuster was founded and where it opened its first store in Dallas in 1985.
“It grew from no stores in the 80s, to it becoming a real part of American culture all over the country by the mid-90s, but by the 2000s it started to decline. We got to see the beginning, the peak, and now, unfortunately this is the end.”
At its peak, Blockbuster had more than 9,000 stores in the U.S. and several thousand more worldwide, but emerging video-streaming technology, competitors like Redbox and Netflix in the 2000s eventually led to dwindling demand for traditional video stores, forcing the company to file for bankruptcy by 2010.
Payne, who closed his Blockbuster stores in El Paso by mid-2016, said he thinks the stores will be remembered as communal centers where people brought their families for entertainment.
“It was an event to go to a Blockbuster store on a Friday or Saturday night and most people if they weren’t going to the theater, that’s what they were doing — it became a community gathering spot where people came and talked movies, had a good time and went home, watched the movie and ate popcorn,” Payne said. “For a long time it was just part of what people did on the weekends.”
Rick, who said the store never closed even during extreme weather like Hurricane Dolly in 2008, said he’s going to miss walking into the store and smelling the familiar aroma of a Blockbuster store.
“There’s a very specific smell when you walk in here,” Rick said smiling from ear to ear.
He said what he and his staff fulfilled for its customers is something people who use services like Redbox, Netflix and other video-on-demand services don’t experience — human interaction.
“The whole human element (is missing),” Rick said. “I’ll miss the customers and the staff the most – being able to bring a smile to our customers was the best part.”
Throughout Saturday’s liquidation sale, movie-fiends, casual shoppers lured into the store by the huge “store closing sale” sign on the store’s window, and other random shoppers, held in their arms stacks of DVDs.
Ivan Nayfeh, 27, of McAllen, stood about halfway through the line Saturday, with about 15 DVDs cradled in his arms, he said he didn’t expect to see a large crowd.
Nayfeh still buys physical media when streaming services can’t provide what he’s looking for.
Another customer sacrificing part of his weekend to stand in line was C.J. Farmer, who said he didn’t want to miss out on the chance to get older movie titles that are difficult to find on the cheap online.
Rick, in the last year or so said he has worked fewer hours as the store’s business began to wind down, but his wife, who has only ever worked for Blockbuster said she still didn’t know how it was going to feel when the store finally closes.
“I can’t tell you exactly what I’m going to feel because I’m not there yet,” Liz said. “But it is going to feel different because this is (the store) where I started, this is where I met (my husband), so it’s very personal, it was more than a job — it’s more like a home.”
Payne said he expects to keep the store open for about two to three weeks or until he is able to sell off as much of the inventory as possible, so those looking to make it a Blockbuster night will have at least a few more opportunities to do so.