My first real job, aside from babysitting, was as a Customer Service Representative at the now defunct Blockbuster Video.
I worked at Blockbuster for 2.5 years during high school up until I went to college. I can’t quite remember why I didn’t work there during the summer breaks when I was home from college, but instead took a summer job working the accessories counter at Macy’s. More on that another time!
I worked at Blockbuster during the waning days of VHS tapes. In fact, I remember when they put the small DVD section in the store and all of us thought “No one is going to buy all new machines to play these things!” I remember one of the regular customers coming in to get new release DVDs because some new mail-order DVD subscription service called Netflix didn’t have new releases. I thought it sounded like a dumb company name and silly way to get movies. So funny to think back on it now.
As a lover of movies, it was a pretty fun place to work. I often worked full 8-hour shifts during one of the weekend days, and a few nights during the school week since the manager was very flexible with my extracurricular schedule and calendar.
I started at Blockbuster shelving returned videos, organizing shelving, and helping people find movies they wanted. On slow nights, we had to dust and clean the lesser rented older movies, like the entire series of Dark Shadows. When big, popular movies came out, we’d have to spend an entire Sunday or Monday night shift moving VHS around on the shelves to make room for the multiple copies of movies we would supply. This was one of my least favorite activities since I’m a bit spatially challenged and I always had to rework how many copies of older movies had to go in order to fit the required six on a shelf.
When I moved up to working the register, I also became responsible for being the dreaded teller of late fees, which was always an interesting experience. I almost always called for the manager on duty to deal with it since it always seemed silly to argue with someone over $4.19 ( the price of a 2-night new release rental– why I remember that, who knows!). I liked getting to know the customers, learning about new and obscure movies, and helping people find new things to watch based on their interests. I also graduated to being the ‘found on shelf’ gal which meant that on every shift I had to search through the store to see if movies that were missing were in fact, on the shelf and not scanned in properly. Another favorite task was shrink wrapping the VHS tapes that were being transferred from rental to sale– I bought more PVT (previously viewed tapes) than I knew what to do with. They were so cheap and with my discount they were practically free! Of course, all of those PVTs are now long gone, donated to libraries and Goodwill over the years.
Looking back, it’s amazing to think how technology was so slow to change at Blockbuster, even though it was only 1999-2001. Our computers and the rental system ran on MS-DOS, blue screen and all. Reports and rental cards were printed on dot-matrix printers with the side margins you had to rip off. When someone wanted to special order a VHS, we had to fill out a form, check to see if it was available in this HUGE book, and get back to them. Amazon wasn’t quite a thing yet. We even rented VHS players to people for $99. Mind boggling to think about it now.
Working at Blockbuster not only gave me early access to new movies, but ruined more than a few for me too. I was there during The Sixth Sense release and knew within an hour of it being on the shelf what the movie was all about. I’ve seen almost all the good and bad movies of the late 90s and early 2000s not because of interest, but just because I worked at the store and needed to know about the movies we rented.
I was long gone from Blockbuster when they closed up shop. Of course, working with the public and in a retail setting gave me a lot of life skills I have used in my career, though I can say that I think this early experience working with the public probably helped my interest in wanting to work with museum objects and not people!
I’d love to hear more about some of your first job experiences!