Even after we got VHS, the selection at those mom-and-pop stories left something to be desired. Eventually there were three or four within a few miles of our house, and sometimes if you didn't find anything at one you'd visit a competitor or two. The name of the one closest to our house escapes me, because my mom called it Frank's 5, the conceit being that they only ever had five movies available. It will always be dear to my heart because when it opened, the immigrant owners, whose English was broken at best, had this enormous "T" section. Looking for The Goonies? That was in the "T" section for the first month or so. Over the years we came to know them as very nice, hardworking people, and I wonder where they are today. They didn't last long when Blockbuster opened.
It's common to note the expansive selection Blockbuster offered, compared to what had been available before, and that was true. What I remember, as well, was the sticker shock. The price point went through so many iterations that I can't remember them all, and I suspect that they varied by location as the local Blockbuster endeavored to put as many mom-and-pops as possible out of business. But I do remember my parents arguing about the value proposition. Dad: "Blockbuster costs more than twice as much!" Mom: "But you get to keep it for three days."
At first, it seemed like a no-brainer to me. Cheaper was better. Why would you need a movie for three days? You rent it, take it home, eat dinner, watch it, and go to bed.
Then dad takes it back in the morning.
But in hindsight, that was a game-changer, because when my family rented from Blockbuster, and had the option to watch that night or the next night, we got used to it.*
There were times when the discretion came in handy. (Mom: "Oh, so now that you remember the Lakers are playing tonight you're glad that we got the two day rental.")
Last summer, I listened to Ted Sarandos, the chief content officer at Netflix, talk about their original TV shows, and the way they release a whole season of episodes all at once to be watched on demand. He thinks it's game-changing, that other content providers will be forced to start doing it to compete, because people like it.
I agree, not only because that's how I like to watch television now, but because back in the day, I remember how Blockbuster leveraged its bigger inventory to let people rent movies for multiple days, how people found they liked being able to do that, and how even mom-and-pops without enough videos to make that a viable strategy tried to match them, because consumers had become accustomed to it.
Today, our options for "watch when you want" are far broader than Netflix, of course, and everything from video rentals themselves to DVRs to Internet streaming played a role in getting us to where we are today. But Blockbuster played a part too, and in my family, it probably did more than anything else to accustom us to watching what we wanted to watch on a time frame more flexible than today.
* Yes, in theory we could've kept the "Frank's 5" movies for two days, paid the late fee, and come out about the same. But psychologically, it wasn't the same as all, at least in my family. You didn't plan to pay the late fee. The deadline was the deadline!