Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Goodbye Blockbuster (Better Late than Never)

February 21, 2012, was my last day at Blockbuster Video. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long since I have stepped foot in a Blockbuster store to work my usual shift.  I spent three years at Blockbuster Video, which is nothing compared to what some people have spent there, some over a decade.  No, I was not fired.  My store closed on Roberts Road in Hickory Hills. Usually when a store closes, you get transferred to another one, but as everyone knows, there are no stores nearby anymore. There was nowhere for me to go upon the closing of the store. I was a CSR without a store. Sadly, it is now a Chase Bank to be, and a part of me gets incredibly depressed whenever I see them building the Chase.

In order to tell this story, it’s best to go to the start of the story. It was December of 2008, and I was, as I still am, a struggling writer trying to find a writing gig that pays at a magazine, website, or any publication. Writing is what I love to do, live to do, and want to do more than anything in the whole world. I just wish someone would pay me to do it. I’m not looking for a rich contract, just some cash to pay my bills, live comfortably.  I’ve always held firm that is what I wanted to do.

Well, a dream is great to have and everyone should have one, but dreams don’t always pay the bills, at least right away. I had like 25 dollars in my checking account, and I was tired of living on little to nothing. Plus, my dad needed help with the bills, as the burden was becoming too strong on him. So I had to find a real job, you know, the kind where you get a paycheck at the end of two weeks. I’ve worked fast food before, and let me tell you, that job is not for me. No disrespect to anyone who works in fast food, as everyone has to do it, but I couldn’t stand it.

I worked at McDonalds and Fasano’s Pizza before.  McDonald’s was by far the worst, as I was stuck in a kitchen with people who did not speak English, and they were put in charge of training me. I burned my hand, got yelled at, and generally felt like crap most of the time at this job.  As far as the pizza gig, again, not for me, the fast paced world of fast food, trying to figure out to make all the pizzas, the sauces, ingredients. I give all the credit in the world to the people who work these jobs, and everyone has to make a living somehow, but I couldn’t do it. I need human interaction. I’m a people person, and I love helping people, talking to people, and having a connection with customers.

When you stick me in the back of a kitchen, with no one to talk to, that speaks English, I feel like a robot, lose interest and become very bored. I become disconnected. When I feel that way, I shut down and don’t feel inspired, motivated, or excited to do my work. So, the job hunt started, and I wanted to be a cashier, where I could talk to people, ring them out, and tell some jokes, have some fun.  I applied at Target, Best Buy, Kohl’s, Walmart, and the Blockbuster Video on 104th and Cicero. Well, within a week of applying online, Blockbuster Video called me in for an interview.

This I could do. I love movies, and I get to be around them all day, talk about them, and help customers decide what to rent. It’s not a writing job that pays, but it’s the next best thing in terms of retail. I applied numerous times at Hollywood Video, had friends who worked there, but never, ever got a sniff of an interview or call back, which was always disappointing to me. My girlfriend at the time came in with me for moral support, and I have to say, I knocked the interview out of the park in my mind.
I knew movies and I felt confident, in control, and like I impressed her. When you know something and it fits, it just feels right.  That was the case with Blockbuster Video. A week later, they called me, and I got the job. Woo hoo! I started my first shift and initially worked with Tony and Sandy and also met Daren. Daren has become of my close friends, as we have worked together at Oak Lawn, Bridgeview, Orland and Hickory.  He’s loud, funny, carefree, and very charismatic.  He’s also incredibly loyal and would do anything to help someone who is having a bad day or needs help, whether it’s buying you dinner, making you laugh, or just listening. If he’s your friend, he would do just about anything for you. Tony was a great deadpan comedian at work, who loved wrestling and the Office. We clicked instantly and lived close to each other. 

Whenever I worked weekend shifts with Tony and Daren, I knew work would go by quickly and be a freaking blast. They never disappointed. Sandy was a riot and really the person who trained me, helped me, and walked me through those first few months when I was incredibly nervous, uncomfortable. Jeree was also incredibly helpful to me, and I wish I would have gotten to work with him more.
The manager and assistant manager were very intimidating, as most main managers are I would imagine. When you are new to a place, it’s especially scary, as you want them to like you, you want to fit in, and you want to impress them.  I tried too hard at times to do this and failed miserably.    The hardest part of the job, without question, was the sales.  I would have many sleepless nights, panic attacks, and great stress over my sales numbers. Basically, we had to sell different programs, packages, and presales, and we had goals each week of what we had to sell. I never felt comfortable with this, as we had to be pushy at times. I’m not really a pushy person.

If you didn’t sell, it was not fun going to work, let’s just say that. I sucked at sales, to be quite honest. I would stutter, stumble, and didn’t sell crap.  I understand it’s part of the retail process, but I hate it. I don’t like when it’s done to me, and I don’t like doing it to others. To be fair, the store manager told me about it in the interview, but I never imagined it was this vital to the job. So, basically, I would hide, try to avoid the register, and keep busy, so I did other stuff that didn’t involve selling. I would try to clean, straighten, and do other odd tasks to avoid having to be at the register and sell. It scared me, and I would dread going into work and having to do it. The night before my shift, I would toss and turn and worry about it. It was not fun. I needed a job, though, so I had to suck it up and deal with it.

I would see others do it so effortlessly and so easily. They could do it like it was nothing at all. I can’t say I particularly enjoyed my time at the Oak Lawn Blockbuster. I was too nervous, trying too hard, worrying too much, and inside my own head. I was a wreck and not a very good employee, I’ll be honest. When I heard the store was closing down and an Auto Zone was going to take over, I was freaking out, as I didn’t know if I was going to get another job and what I was going to do. Luckily, I was transferred to the store in Bridgeview on 87th and Harlem, which wasn’t too far away from my house.

I got off on the wrong foot at this store, which was my fault, for saying the wrong things. I rubbed people the wrong way, and no one liked me and I knew it.  Sales were a little easier at this store for me, as I think a change of scenery did me good. I was getting the hang of it, selling pretty well, and in the groove of it. Hey, maybe I could do this, after all. I never enjoyed it, selling, but it was part of the job.  It’s pretty simple.  Sell or go home.  If you don’t like it, get another job. I didn’t like it, but I liked the job, so I put up with it, made the most of it.
My store manager Marlene was also helping out at another store in Palos, and she needed some extra help, so I went over there for their closing run from September until October. Through that store, I met Joe Guzy, who I clicked with instantly and got along with. We still keep in touch through Facebook and chat about movies, sports. He would always give me the score of Packer games, as I would work Sunday’s and my phone wasn’t as high tech as it is now.

Palos was a freaking blast. It was a closing store, which means no pressure to sell. All you do is ring people out, talk to customers, help them. I loved that and always enjoyed going there. At one point, I was working 35 hours between Palos and Bridgeview. I loved it. I was working a ton, making a ton of money, and keeping busy. I also met James Lohman, who has an incredible brain when it comes to movie knowledge. He was a fun manager to work with and we always had great movie discussions.  That was a great 8 week run, and I always looked forward to working at the Palos store and was sad when it closed. The only downside to that store was there was nowhere to eat in that general area, and as everyone knows, I need food when I’m hungry.

Then we found out that Bridgeview was also closing, so in a matter of a year, three stores I worked at were closed or closing, Oak Lawn, Bridgeview, and Palos. It was a harsh reality. You get close to people, form a connection, enjoy working with them, and look forward to working with them. Then, you might never, ever see them again, except for the random Facebook interaction. That’s why I always have a problem when school ends and the semester is over. I like familiarity and seeing the usual faces. I’m an open book, as you can probably tell from reading this blog or any of my writing, and I let people in. When I let them in, I like to them to stay around, stay in my life, and be around for a while. When they are taken away or gone so quickly, a part of me gets sad, misses that.

By this point, I think the opinion on me had changed in Bridgeview. I kept my mouth shut, worked hard, and tried to be a good employee. They could tell I had changed; they gave me a second chance and embraced me. I would work every Monday with the store manager Marlene, getting the signs and the store ready for the new sales, as the prices changed throughout the outlet. I enjoyed working those Monday mornings with Marlene, as I liked the routine, familiar faces, and seeing the customers. I felt like everyone at the store liked me, and I fit in. I was considered a good employee, treated very well, and received a ton of hours during the outlet. We also had Kim Thackwell at the store as our manager for a brief period, and she was amazing. She had a great sarcasm to her personality and was always a blast. She was the type of person you wanted to work for. You wanted to work hard for her, make her happy, because she was such a sweet and giving person.

Once that store closed, I was on my way to 179th and Wolf Road all the way out in Orland Park. It’s not the Orland you would imagine, next to the mall and all of the hot restaurants. It’s in the middle of nowhere with nothing in sight except for a random Blockbuster, a Subway, and a rundown pizza place. This store was incredibly slow and often produced hour gaps of no customers. Here, Marlene was the manager, which was great, and I also worked with Tim, Joe Guzy again, and Daren.  It was a fantastic crew and my favorite store, just because it was a perfect crew assembled.  We all worked hard, but it never felt like work.  I remember working during the Super Bowl and the Oscars, when no one was within a 10 mile radius of the store.  I also worked during blizzards, which also produced no customers.  It was a great store, small, and a relaxing environment. Of course, it closed down in April, and then I was moved to Hickory Hills, where I lasted for two years before they were closed down.

I feel like when I was transferred to Hickory Hills, that’s when I came into my own as an employee. Not only could I sell, but I was one of the top sellers, if not, the top seller at the store. When I think back to my early days at the Oak Lawn Blockbuster, I couldn’t sell water to a dying man in Africa. Now, I was churning out sales, each and every week.  It helped that Hickory was by far the busiest store in the district. When you have a register to yourself, with customers coming in, one after another, it’s only natural that you are going to sell SOMETHING. If you try and keep at it, the law of averages will work out in your favor.

I was here with Keriann Bryant, who I also worked with at Bridgeview. This is a manager who makes her employees feel special, whether it’s buying them a lunch, giving them a ride home, or going the extra mile, she did it. She was like the momma of Blockbuster, looking out for all of us, with difficult customers or anything that was needed.  I also worked with Michelle, who was shy and quiet but when she got to know you, she had a very fun side to her. Margaret was also a manager at this store, and she was no nonsense when it came to the customer, that’s for sure.

The store manager was Dina and she was very, very fair when it came to how the store was run. She had a very specific vision and idea.  She had been with the company for many years and since the Hickory store opened. She was hardworking, dedicated, and put everything into the store. When you work with somebody like that, it makes you want to work harder and go the extra mile. After working there for a while, I saw a new side of her, as she opened up more, had a wicked sense of humor, and was very caring about her employees.

The CSR’s, of course, how could you forget about Stella? She was a hoot and a holler, always laughing and in good spirits. I could just smile or laugh and she would crack up laughing. I also met one of my best friends there, Mohammad. Sadly, we have lost touch, as so often happens with life, but he was an incredible friend to have. We had tons of fun playing Madden, going to the movies and hanging out. That happened because of Blockbuster.

Daren, of course, was there, and we had many fun Saturday night shifts, one that involves a Buddhist trying to convert Daren, as Keriann and I stood by, in shock, doing nothing. We also had a blast when the power went out and we ordered a pizza. I always loved those Saturday shifts, with D$. He made it worthwhile to be there on a Saturday night, when I would rather be out, let’s be honest.

Joe Guzy was there for a while there, which was awesome. Becky and Amber also worked there, and they were always fun to be around and work with.

We had a revolving door of managers at one point, with Chris Lee and Judy.  Chris was sort of a like a hippie movie buff, with his long hair and easy going attitude. It was rare to see him upset or worked up and he had a great connection with the customers. They loved him. Judy sort of took over the role of Keriann, as the mom of Blockbuster, often bringing me food and helping me with everything.  She always had me cracking up, as she would just give me a stare and it would say everything I needed to know about what she wanted or what she was thinking. I miss working with her.
Other honorable mentions go to Roxanne from Tinley Park, Lalo from Crestwood, Jessica from Lockport, and I’m sure I’m forgetting many others. I’m sorry if that’s the case.

Of course, the customers, and I could write three blogs about them.  I’ll just say that they cared about me and I cared about them. When I see them at Jewel, I give them hugs and they remember me. I had something special with them. It was unlike anything I’ve ever had before any at store or any Blockbuster.  It was magic. I was nicknamed The Mayor, because I knew most customers by name, they asked for me, and I would make them laugh or recommend movies to them. I felt like I mattered around them.  When the store closed, I had so many of them offer me jobs, help, and wisdom.  It was like I was a member of their family.

With that said, I feel like when the store closed, I was ready for it.  Even though I was only there for three years, it felt like many more, due to the store closings, uncertainty of whether I’d have a job or not, Dish buying Blockbuster, new programs to sell, pressure to sell, and everything else that occurred. It was a very unstable environment, as much as I enjoyed it. I did everything I could have done at Blockbuster. I never wanted to be a manager or be promoted. I knew that wasn’t for me.
I’ll always remember Blockbuster and what I’ve learned from the company. I can sell. Even though I hate selling, if I have to, I can do it.  I can handle lines out the door, with relative ease, without freaking out. I can adjust to new stores, new managers, and new environments. I can fit in. I can screw up, have people hate me, but then like me. I can deal with difficult customers.  It was a great learning experience and I’ll always be grateful for that and the memories that I will always cherish.
And I’ll end it with this …

Do you want to add a bundle with that? 

-Tony Farinella


  1. Excellent blog. Personally I'm not going to miss Blockbuster Video all that much, but with all the store closings I do feel for those who work inside the stores. Like you, they showed true dedication.

  2. I finally got around to reading your blog!! I have to say that I do miss Keriann as she would always be cheerful and joking around with me when I came in to visit you. There was a lot of good times at all your Blockbuster locations and it's sad to see them all go.