It’s funny how some memories just stick in your mind, no matter how mundane they seemed at the time. I can remember the sights and smells inside a Blockbuster like I was just there yesterday. Can you?
There was something special about making the trip to Blockbuster on a Friday afternoon to pick out movies for the weekend. My cousin and I were like best friends, and we’d spend all weekend watching the same movies over and over. If we were lucky, my parents would get tired of hearing the same few movies so many times, and take us back to rent fresh tapes to wear out.
Walking up and down those aisles under crappy fluorescent lighting, with the movies divided by genre and then sorted alphabetically, has stayed fresh in my mind. I have no idea why.
It never crossed my mind that something so ubiquitous would just be non-existent one day. But here we are.
The Last Few Blockbusters Left
At the start of 2018, there were nine remaining franchise-owned stores left in the U.S., but by August, eight of those nine had closed. And although there was still a Blockbuster left in Australia, the Blockbuster in Bend, Oregon was the last Blockbuster left in America. Being the last U.S. Blockbuster store, it started attracting tourists.
That sounds strange to say, right? A Blockbuster attracting tourists. It’s wild to think about.
The Last Blockbuster Left on the Planet
With the closing of Blockbuster’s only remaining Australian store on March 31st, that Blockbuster in Oregon has now become the last Blockbuster store remaining in the world.
There’s something oddly familiar when looking inside Bend’s Blockbuster. It’s exactly like every Blockbuster store I ever walked in. A huge wave of nostalgia washes over you as you walk through the door.
It still has the signature popcorn ceilings, low fluorescent lighting, and wire metal video racks. The newer releases still line the perimeter of the store, with older titles in the middle. You can still pick up some Red Vines while standing in line.
It’s not just the shelves after shelves of alphabetically sorted romcoms, either. If the computer crashes, the system has to be rebooted using floppy disks. Employees have to write out membership cards by hand because the dot-matrix printer broke.
The store’s transactions are backed up on a reel-to-reel tape that can’t be replaced, since the Radio Shack went out of business.
Stubbornness is Paying Off
“It’s pure stubbornness, for one. We didn’t want to give in,” said Sandi Harding, the general manager of the Bend store who receives a lot of the credit for keeping the store alive well past its expiration date. “We did everything we could to cut costs and keep ourselves relevant.” Sandi Harding has worked at the franchise for 15 years.
It seems as if that stubbornness has paid off. Tourists started coming by to snap selfies, and business picked up. T-shirts, cups, magnets, bumper stickers, and hats flew off the shelves. With the Australian location closed, the store is already getting a new wave of visitors from as far away as Asia and Europe.
People regularly send the store boxes of their old VHS and DVDs. They’re also sending in old Blockbuster memorabilia, like keychains, old membership cards, and even corporate jackets.
A documentary is currently being made by two filmmakers in Bend, Oregon, and they say that their goal is to get it “on the shelf at Blockbuster while there still is one.”