BLOCKBUSTER IS CLOSING! HMV is closing! Woolworths is already closed. What’s next? Twitter is very sad. There have been some wonderful pieces about the glory days of HMV, (hi Grace Dent) and some equally excellent ones about why they failed.
And there have also been some quite reasonably pointing out that if we’d been that bothered about them closing, we’d have shopped there instead of forking out for Amazon Prime and rejoicing in getting Fried Green Tomatoes for £2.99.
But I do get the feeling that those berating the cult of nostalgia are missing one particular point. For many 30-somethings, it’s far, far more selfish than simply missing the brands: it’s the realisation that we are becoming obsolete. That a part of our lives that we lived from start to finish has been judged as completely over, and that a part of us, by extension, is finished and done. We’ve barely got through our quarter-life crises!
While I will never, ever mourn the passing of dial-up internet and AOL chatrooms (creepy), these shops represent parts of our lives that are gone forever. I remember them, dimly, as much as I can when my memory resembles an ancient and poorly-tended kitchen sponge. A microcosm of fashion, unfashion, romantic yearning, and growing up will be gone forever, and only spark up again when the next shop closes, and the next memories return.
I still bear resentment to HMV Guildford for not hiring me for a winter job in my first year of university. Presumably I didn’t have the cojones to pursue music seriously, or maybe it was because they couldn’t believe that I could reconcile a love of Phantom of the Opera with an all-consuming love of the MTV2 and Kerrang! channels.
Walking into HMV in the late 90s was like walking into a swimming pool and instantly losing your footing. For all I know, that store might have been filled with over-40s, but being a teenager you only ever notice attractive people around your age, and the musos of Guildford and its environs were a soulful, if distressingly dressed bunch. The amount of Dr Moose t-shirts I bought as a result of trying to impress boys in that shop is frankly outrageous.
This one stings most of all. Not now, obviously, the only person I knew who still shopped there was my boyfriend, a bargain hunter of such innate cunning that I’m amazed he isn’t single-handedly responsible for their downfall.
Blockbuster was the coolest place in Petersfield, the Hampshire town which was the nucleus of my country existence for eight incredibly long years. Admittedly there wasn’t much, if any, competition for the hip badge, but everyone who worked in Blockbuster was a rock star. Everyone. Even if they were really a spotty 20-year-old, anyone with a branded shirt and a pass behind the counter was a God in the eyes of every teenager in a five mile radius. They’d probably seen a video nasty. And lived!
But to the cuisine-deprived youth of Hampshire, Blockbusters bore a special exoticism: Haagen Dazs. To children raised on Gino Ginelli’s and Cornish soft scoop, this was a luxury beyond our wildest dreams. When Blockbusters started selling Oreos a while later, there was an outcry, and serving Oreos at your after school get together became a true sign of your general worthiness as a secondary school cool person. (Two things: 1. My mother didn’t believe in trends, or expensive trendy food. 2. I lived in a village five miles away so never had anyone round after school. But unfortunately even an unending source of Oreos wouldn’t have endangered my reputation as the year’s queen of sad.)
Childhood in a shop. I have only the very loosest memories of anything else they may have sold, because to me and mine, Woolworths’ only trade worth its salt was in penny sweets, pictures and music. We bought ruinously expensive, fashionable CDs, pick ‘n mix, and spent our pound coins showing off our friends and Silvermine lipsticks in passport booths that let you take four different pictures at once (it is a particular horror to realise, while looking at Instagram, that with these booths and MySpace you have lived through two precursors to ‘selfies’.)
These chapters are over for us. Just as one day the next generation will realise they’ve lost something of themselves, and mourn with according self-indulgence.