Last year, Hastings Entertainment closed after 48 years of business. They were a retail chain in the southern United States serving small to medium markets. Their competition was Barnes and Noble and F.Y.E. The store was structured into three zones, movies, music and books. They were also one of the last major video rental services and managed to hold out for years after the collapse of Blockbuster and Hollywood video. Their closing was particularly hard on me, as I use to work there in high school and had spent countless hours browsing their second-hand movies and new stock long-play records. Over the past decades we have seen the decline in physical media retailers in general.
Since childhood I have prided myself on having collections of things I liked; I guess it’s a generational thing. In the mid 1990s I collected Magic: The Gathering, a trading card game. It was often found in small boutique shops that also sold comic books and other collectibles, like action figures. The community was built around the fetishization of these collectibles and consumerism. Hastings capitalized on these specialty markets and crammed their stores with as much inventory as possible, covering as wide of a spectrum of niche collectibles.
One advantage their business model had over competition was their buying power, having around 126 superstores and featuring a popular buy-back program where stores would purchase used media such as books, movies, and cd’s; reselling them at prices competitive to the online juggernaut Amazon.com. Their size allowed for buying the power that smaller retailers struggled to compete with, their computer system allowed employees to search for and order obscure small-label releases from around the world of indie bands and new-old-stock warehouses across the nation.
None of this seemed to hold back the inevitability of bankruptcy, coupled with the three-pronged threat of a weak economy. Rise in online sales and shifting away from physical media they soon followed other popular media retailers like Borders and Suncoast, but only a decade after their closings. I suspect one of the only reasons they held out as long as they did was that they typically owned their properties rather than leasing a storefront in shopping malls allowing their corporation to hold on to higher equity similar to Wal-Mart. As for shopping malls, it seems that they are heading towards a similar fate, eMarketer.com reports declining sales in retail department stores from 2005-2015.
A popular YouTube channel called the Dead Mall Series chronicles mall closures and across the U.S. It appears that this is the trend nationwide.
Is this the end of consumer culture? No, not exactly, it seems that it is the end of physical media and end of brick and mortar retail outlets. If a specialty boutique store like Hastings couldn’t hold on there is little hope for the rest, at present the next closest major retailer that could compare is Barnes and Noble. The future of retail and physical media remains uncertain.