Shopping for music is not what it used to be. Gone are the hours spent browsing endless titles on the high street. Internet shopping and, latterly, downloadable content have seen off the serendipitous finds and bargain-hunting that once swallowed up whole days at a time. For a while, the void left by music was filled by movies, but even they soon succumbed to being ‘always cheaper on the web’. Now, with 1080p HD streaming becoming more ubiquitous, even Blu-rays look like their best days are behind them. The death of physical media is nigh, and with it the last of the high street entertainment shops will fade from view.
Does this make me sad? Well, a little. But it’s not something I get too emotional about. The new technology is irresistibly immediate, for the most part affordable, and the range of content has reinvented the browsing experience in a whole new sphere. As for high street shopping, there was much to like, but also much that I didn’t. While others still wax lyrical about London’s lost indie record shops, I doubt I’m alone in having found many cliquey and unwelcoming.
But though I’m not exactly weeping with nostalgia, there are some trappings of the old experience which leave me a bit teary-eyed. And nowhere have I found these recalled more vividly in recent times than in my local Blockbuster.
It doesn’t make much sense. I’ve never been a big movie renter, and am not much for gaming either. Certainly, I’ve never met anyone who would champion a Blockbuster in the same way they’d celebrate some old vinyl emporium. But there are things about the Crystal Palace store – fragments of a former world – which thrill me with memories of times past.
I’m taking about the ancient VDUs behind the counter, and their companion, nicotine-stained keyboards. I’m talking about the 4:3 CRT tellies dotted above customers’ heads, shrieking out their trademark squeal. I’m talking about the sheer size of the place: two cavernous sections, one a kind of mezzanine, with miles of shelf space and innumerable identical titles, all lined up, with space to spare, in glorious abundance. I’m talking about the stained, gum-encrusted carpets and devil-may-care special offers, recalling the gung-ho, can-do-no-wrong zenith of years gone by.
Above all, I’m talking about the way the assistants take your chosen box, then dive beneath the counter: pulling open a drawer of delights, delving inside, searching for minutes through dog-eared cardboard, before finally slipping your chosen media out of its shell. There, right there, my childhood lives on. It’s faint and fleeting, but still just about alive: that magical moment of choosing your treasure in Our Price, Woolworths or WH Smith, then waiting with bated breath as the thing itself was summoned from that ordered realm of shelves and drawers that hid such manifold riches.
So I’ll be a little sad this coming Sunday, 18th November 2012, when the Blockbuster on Westow Street, SE19, finally breathes its last. It’s no great tragedy. The shop has long outlived its useful purpose, and it’s time to move on. But in a world which long ago forgot the peculiar, mainstream romance of high street entertainment shopping, I for one will struggle not to mourn its anachronistic glimpses of how things used to be.