In the early 2000s, there were around 9,000 Blockbuster Video stores. But now there’s only one left in the United States. As KLCC’s Brian Bull reports, changes in the movie rental industry have led to the closure of all U.S. stores, except for one in the central Oregon city of Bend.
It’s like a bonafide flashback, with blue and gold décor everywhere, aisles stocked with thousands of DVDs, and customers lined up at the register bearing movies and candy.
Clerk (to couple): “Is the account in your name?”
Woman: “It’s under mine.”
Sandi Harding is general manager for this sole remaining Blockbuster. There were a couple others up in Alaska but as of this weekend, they’re out of the game.
“They’ll still be open for the next 60 days or so but they’ll be in liquidation," explains Harding. "They’ll be selling off all their inventory, so they won’t be renting anymore.
"So we’ll be the last renting Blockbuster store in America.”
There remain just a handful of Blockbuster videos in Australia, adds Harding.
Blockbuster dominated the home rental market for years, until rivals like Netflix and Redbox began scoring with streaming internet and mail-in movies. After filing for bankruptcy in 2011, Blockbuster was acquired by the DISH Network. The owners of the Bend Blockbuster have chosen to keep the brand name anyway.
Harding says locals still support their store, including Genevieve Williams. She’s here with her family, and is cradling about a dozen DVDs.
“There’s a big selection for the kids to kinda wander around and look at a bunch of different things, so it makes it fun.” (BULL: So you think you’ll keep coming here?) "Absolutely.”
Deanna Lopez is with her husband, Pablo, and their daughters. She says she enjoys the variety of older films as well as new releases, and the prices are still reasonable.
“S’fun for the family. The girls get to come and pick out which movies they want. (BULL: What’s on the watch list tonight, can I hear some of the titles?) "Lion King, Escape, Plan 2, Blockers…" (BULL: Got a full week of movie watching.) Yes, (laughs) vacation.”
Many movies cycle out of major rivals, leaving customers often frustrated. Blockbuster employee Santana Aguilar says their stock has remained pretty consistent, and that has helped build a dedicated customer base for the Bend store.
“Netflix doesn’t have all the movies, and neither does Red Box," Aguilar tells KLCC. "So we can get a lot of movies here that like, you can’t find anywhere else, locals like it. (BULL: People also like supporting local.) "Yeah, exactly." (BULL: Which is funny, ‘cuz given that this used to be a corporate chain of about 9,000 stores, and now it’s almost like a mom and pop shop in a way.)" Yeah, it’s kinda crazy. I really hope we stay open for a lot longer.”
General Manager Sandi Harding says there’s no question the Bend Blockbuster will stay open. She and the owners, Ken and Debbie Tisher, are proud of their operation.
The only lingering question? What to do if a certain movie prop arrives at her doorstep. Comedian John Oliver had it sent to an Alaska Blockbuster as part of a bit on his show.
"Evidently it is the jockstrap from the movie, “Cinderella Man” that Russell Crowe wore, and our Anchorage, Alaska store has it at the moment, and I guess there’s a petition going around for them to be sending it down here to us. (BULL: How would you feel if Russell Crowe’s jockstrap arrived in the mail for you?) Uhm…I have mixed emotions about that actually, part of me says, “Oh no” and part of me says, “Oh yay, we get to have some movie memorabilia in the store.” So I think anything would be very interesting and fun, and if nothing else it’s a great conversation piece.”
And if nothing else, Russell Crowe is an Australian actor, and so maybe his athletic supporter could be sent to a Blockbuster overseas, and find a fitting spot “down under.”
Copyright 2018, KLCC.