Grass Valley’s last remaining Blockbuster video rental store is facing its final curtain call as corporate owner Dish Network Corp. moves to shutter its remaining 300 nationwide locations by early January.
“I feel like Blockbuster was a community center in Grass Valley,” said Halli Ellis, 24, cofounder of NEO, a Grass Valley-based youth center promoting sober activities.
“It was never really seen or viewed as a corporation,” Ellis said. “It was more of a family store. People just felt welcomed there.”
While 300 Blockbuster locations scattered around the country will be closed by early January, 50 franchised stores will remain open in the U.S., spokesman John Hall confirmed with The Union Wednesday.
“No stores in the California area are franchise stores, which means they will all be closing,” relayed Hill+Knowlton Strategies’ Kate Gremillion to The Union on behalf of Hall.
Blockbuster has long struggled to survive in the increasingly digital world. The company found itself facing bankruptcy three years ago until it was bought by Dish Network Corp. Last year, Blockbuster suffered an operating loss of $35 million on revenue of $1.1 billion and posted an operating loss of $4 million during the first half of this year, according to regulatory filings.
“This is not an easy decision, yet consumer demand is clearly moving to digital distribution of video entertainment,” Dish Network CEO Joseph Clayton said in a statement Wednesday.
In February, Grass Valley’s other Blockbuster location, on Sutton Way in the Glenbrook Basin, announced plans to liquidate its merchandise and close the store.
Today, Sleep Shop, a bedroom furniture store, occupies the former Blockbuster site, leaving Blockbuster’s Taylorville Road location as the company’s last remaining presence in town.
“Blockbuster has employed and supported a lot of local people like me over the years,” said store manager Sonya Britt in a September 2011 interview with The Union.
“I remember a 6-year-old who used to come in with his mom to rent movies. Now he’s grown up and works for me.”
Britt declined Wednesday to comment on the store’s impending closure, citing a corporate directive to channel all media inquiries to Gremillion.
Among the Taylorville Road Blockbuster’s contributions to Grass Valley was its support of Bear River and Nevada Union high schools’ grad night celebrations, its support of homeless service provider Hospitality House, Treats for Troops, breast cancer awareness and a “good grades” free rental campaign to reward academically achieving students, The Union previously reported.
“Whenever anybody has asked us, we have helped,” said a store worker who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to retain his or her job through the holidays.
The last local Blockbuster also helped with prizes for the Nevada County Fair, supported Nevada Union cheerleading, participated in parades, helped animal rescuer Scooter’s Pals and allowed organizations to use its facilities for events and fundraising efforts, the employee said Wednesday.
“I think Blockbuster has been one of the biggest contributors for NEO,” Ellis said. “They were constantly promoting us and letting us do events on the floor of their store and in their parking lot. In our community, we lack that place for people to perform and showcase their talents. Blockbuster was a business that actually opened its doors to us.”
As part of Dish Network’s retreat, Blockbuster’s DVD-by-mail service is also shutting down next month. Dish Network is trying to keep the Blockbuster brand alive through an Internet video-streaming service that rents movies and TV shows by title for a set viewing time.
About 2,800 people who work in Blockbuster’s stores and DVD distribution centers will lose their jobs, according to Dish Network.
“We really do love our jobs,” Britt said in 2011. “This is a time in history when companies have to keep reinventing themselves. That keeps things interesting. The worst is behind us, and the best is yet to come.”
The cost-cutting measures are the culmination of a Blockbuster downfall that began a decade ago with the rise of Netflix’s DVD-by-mail service, followed by the introduction of a subscription service that streams video over high-speed Internet connections.
The chain’s near extinction serves as another stark reminder of how quickly technology can reshape industries. Just a decade ago, Blockbuster reigned as one of the country’s most ubiquitous retailers with 9,100 stores in the U.S.
“What we are really losing is that family-friendly, fun community place,” Ellis said. “It’s going to have a huge negative impact.”
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.