YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: It’s official – Brooklyn’s last Blockbuster, located at 6906 18th Avenue in Bensonhurst, is closing its doors as the franchise continues its retreat from brick-and-mortar storefronts.
The store will permanently shut its doors April 7, and this week kicked off a store-wide sale on movies, video games and miscellaneous items. Signs inside the location note that even the furniture and equipment are for sale in a business liquidation that seems to leave nothing off the table.
The storefront became the last location in the borough – and one of the last in the city – after the 3752 Nostrand Avenue location in Sheepshead Bay shuttered almost exactly a year ago.
At its peak, Blockbuster had more than 4,000 stores across the nation, with hundreds in New York City. But facing financial trouble, in part because of digital competitors and management issues, the company declared bankruptcy in 2010 and was acquired by Dish Network, which announced in 2011 that they would only keep 500 storefronts open throughout the country.
Employees at the Bensonhurst storefront report that loyal Blockbuster customers are reeling from the announcement.
“An elderly woman actually cried when she heard the news,” said an employee, who asked to remain anonymous. “She said she didn’t understand the internet and wasn’t sure how she’d watch movies now.”
While numerous “Blockbuster Express” rental stations have been established around Brooklyn, the nearest store location is in Middle Village, Queens, approximately eight miles away, according to www.Blockbuster.com. Blockbuster Express kiosks are DVD vending machines inside shopping centers, drug stores and other businesses.
Not all Bensonhurst residents are surprised by the closure, saying that technology has phased out the need for physical locations.
“I thought most video stores were already gone,” said Natalie Marks, a longtime Bensonhurst resident. “With online sites like Netflix and Hulu, Blockbuster seems like an outdated service. I think technology has surpassed the need for a local store – whether it’s an independent place or a chain location.”
But, outdated or not, some Bensonhurst locals said that Blockbuster was a vital commercial link in the community.
“It’s good for the neighborhood,” said John Panepinto, a local in his 20s, about the pending closure. “It’s one of the last real businesses left.”
A Jim Henson fan and avid movie collector, Panepinto admitted that most of his friends stream movies online. “I don’t know anyone who still buys them,” he said. But for him, few things match the feeling of physically holding a DVD. “I’m going to miss this place,” he said.
Some locals said that this store’s close is symbolic of a changing Bensonhurst.
“This whole neighborhood has changed,” said Tamer Hassan, a graduate student from Long Island University. Hassan said that this Blockbuster used to be a popular destination for him during lunch breaks at work. Now, he said, the community is different.
“I feel like this space is going to end up a bank or a chain restaurant. That’s what Bensonhurst is becoming,” Hassan said.
Willer Jean, a father of two, agreed.
“It’s really sad. I thought it was a joke when I first heard,” Jean said.
Jean has been coming to this Blockbuster for close to five years, saving money on family outings.
“Going to the movies is so expensive. With movie tickets for my family, popcorn and gas, it’s comes out to almost $80. That’s a lot of money for a two hour trip,” he said.
Jean said leaving the borough or state to get to another storefront is unlikely, and even the Blockbuster Express machines – with only four in Southern Brooklyn – might prove too much a bother.
“It’s so close now. The movie quality was always good and the employees were all nice,” he added.
Multiple requests for comment to Blockbuster’s corporate headquarters went unanswered.
In an interview with the Home Reporter last year after the Sheepshead Bay closure, Kelsey Smith, a spokesperson for Blockbuster, said, “For employees of any closing stores, we intend to relocate as many employees as possible to other stores.”
Two employees at the Bensonhurst location, however, said that they had not yet been offered alternate employment by the company.