Once there was a Blockbuster in this storefront in Escondido. It was “our” last Blockbuster. Now it’s an empty shell.
This made me think about entire ubiquitous businesses that came, and went, all in my lifetime. The entire landscape of strip malls and store fronts has changed many times over the years.
Today is the era of Starbuck, Jamba Juice, Target and Verizon everywhere. Those businesses didn’t exist back in the 1970s and 1980s.
But what did exist?
I remember in the 1970s, waterbed stores were everywhere. They were these big, flat buildings, with lots of windows in the front. At night they’d be lit up brightly. Inside there were a dozen or two waterbeds all set up, some with massive, elaborate headboards. You could lie on the beds and try them out. I had a waterbed for a few years in my early twenties. Once we went on vacation in the winter and turned off the electricity. When we came back, we had to sleep on the floor or couch for two days because the bed was too cold. Now there are no more waterbed stores. It wasn’t the Internet that took those away. Waterbeds were a fad.
X-Rated Movie Theaters
Around the same time there were also all these x-rated movie theaters. They were not really theaters, but just storefronts with no windows or the windows blacked out with plastic cover. I really never wanted to know what went on inside, but those places were everywhere. The Internet with its porn in the privacy of the home made those go away.
Back before Blockbuster even existed, when VHS (and Betamax) first became popular around 1976, mom and pop video stores sprung up everywhere. The players were expensive, but the thought of being able to play your own movie in your own house was so radical, we all sprung for the purchase. Dinner out, stop by the video store on the way home, pick something, pay $5 for the rental, and make sure you bring it back the next day, or you pay another $3 per day late charge. It was the culture for an entire generation. I am sure those cassettes put a dent into the x-rated movie theaters, too, since often there was a backroom separated by a curtain of beads or other barrier with a sign: Adults only. Now all the video stores are gone.
Need I say more? Record stores with the great bins to keep the albums in order were icons of my youth. This was when you really couldn’t listen to a song before you bought it. Very few had the ability to put a record on a turntable before you bought. You just knew the song from the radio or you heard in in a disco. Don’t get me started on discos.
Unfinished Furniture Stores
What ever happened to these places? They used to be everywhere. You could buy the wooden or particle board furniture and finish them yourself. When I was 21 and bought my very first furniture, I got some shelves and a few stools that were unfinished. We painted them in bright colors, orange, yellow, red, blue, green. You might picture our place! Some of those stores may still be around, but they used to be everywhere in those days.
Computer Clone Shops
Before a computer became an appliance, propagated by Gateway and Dell with mail order (before there were websites), the only cost effective way to buy a computer was in a neighborhood clone shop. They put it together in a day from parts right to your specs. A good desktop computer with a large monitor always cost over $4,000. When I started our company that was still the case. A major investment when I hired a new person was getting them a computer. Sometimes I held back hiring because I didn’t have enough money for a computer for the employee. One of our first offices was upstairs from a computer store. It was nice going downstairs and talk to Randy about hard drives we needed to order without driving anywhere. Dell and Gateway made the computer stores disappear toward the late 1990s. They were everywhere, and there are none now.
The only viable bookstore still around now is Barnes & Noble. Before the super bookstores like Barnes & Noble, Borders and Bookstar (do you remember those) there were B. Dalton and Waldenbooks in all the malls. It was nice to do Christmas shopping at the mall and hang out in the bookstores for a while. (I am looking up to the shelf above my desk and there is Tristram Shandy. I bought that book in 1976 at B. Dalton in the Chautauqua Mall. The book is unreadable. I keep it as an icon.) In those days, that’s all we had for bookstores. There were always two in the malls, one B. Dalton, which was usually a bit larger, and a Waldenbooks. They competed with each other and they used to be at different ends of the malls. Then came the super book stores and the small ones died away. There are never any bookstores in malls now. I miss them. And there are few bookstores left in general. Soon there’ll be none.
I probably had more fun writing this than you had reading it. It made me want to time travel back through the years, get in my old red VW bug convertible with the stick shift and the scratchy cloth seats and cruise along the strip malls in Glendale, Arizona in 1978, and visit some of those iconic places that I had no idea they would only exist for a few short seasons until they’d vanish like the leaves in autumn.