The same thing is true in my area. It has gotten crowded. Hastings has changed to seem more like a big Indie store with much more variety than it used to have--toys, computer accessories, books, jewelry,games, all sorts of different things you don't see anywhere else. I'm not sure how to describe it, but it has gotten more contemporary.
That's the goal... Rental was the vehicle for driving excitement and frequent trips... They'll need something to replace that. Product itself doesn't do it, but creating an atmosphere that is exciting and gets people in the door even when they don't want a book/music/video, is what they need.
Sounds like you two see some positive trends here.. .
A few concerns or qualifiers based on your observations.
One store does not equal a recovery trend for an entire company.
One store, in one of their few multi-store markets, being packed is what you should expect. Those are markets in which they have performed the best, and that know them best. They should be packed.
BUT, are they packed with more people, making more or larger purchases, than the same day last year? And, are they making more profit than the same day last year? Those are the true tests of success.
For instance, Best Buy might be packed with people, but currently the trends say that less of those people are actually making purchases in that store or in any other Best Buy. Customer traffic means nothing, if the customers don't actually buy anything.
Every copy of a major release should be rented out on the first weekend, whether or not Redbox has it. It would have been bigger news if the title wasn't rented out.
I can't, and won't, say your opinions are wrong, based on the observations you made. But I couldn't say they are right, or that they signal a recovery, until I had more supporting data.
Q1 2012 numbers would agree with your opinion, that Hastings isn't dead. But, as I have said before, one quarter a trend does not make. I'll wait to say they are out of the woods, after I see Q4 results. Until then I still believe they are in trouble.
Obviously one hopping Hastings doesn't a company make, especially if there are many stores. Even if only one store changes for the better, thought, and if others start seeing the same thing in their areas, that's not all bad.