This article was first published in The Epoch Times on Sept. 8, 2023
There was a day when Blockbuster was the most popular movie-rental store in the world. For many young adults in the late 1980s to early 2000s, going to Blockbuster with your date was a rite of passage. Imagine a Friday night: You’ve picked up your date and had a delicious dinner out, and now you look forward to spending the rest of your evening together. What to do? Go to Blockbuster!
Walking in the brightly lit blue and yellow store, you’d see wall after wall, rack after rack, of front-facing VHS tapes, and later, DVDs. Nearly any movie that had been in a theater was available to rent, including classic movies from the 1930s and 1940s.
A Brief History of Blockbuster
In its heyday, Blockbuster had thousands of stores all over the world (9000 stores in 2004). Each store offered 10,000 movies within 30 categories. They advertised a fast checkout, 24-hour drop-off, and three-evening rentals. This was unlike any mom-and-pop video store that had come before.
Sadly, however, it wasn’t to last. In 1997, Netflix came along, offering DVD rentals through the mail and no late fees. At first, Blockbuster did not consider it a threat. In fact, in September 2000, John Antioco, the CEO of Blockbuster, missed an opportunity to purchase Netflix for $50 million.
However, in 2004, Blockbuster felt sufficiently threatened and formed a spin-off company called Blockbuster Online. In 2007, it changed the name to Blockbuster Total Access, which allowed online customers to bring a Blockbuster DVD they had received in the mail to one of the stores and exchange it for a different DVD for free.
Though Blockbuster lost money on this deal, its subscription base grew substantially. In fact, Blockbuster Total Access did so well that Netflix offered to buy the company! To make a long story short, Viacom, Blockbuster’s parent company, did not believe in the efficacy of the online business and pivoted to reinvesting in Blockbuster’s brick-and-mortar stores.
The End of Blockbuster
With the rise of Netflix and other competitors, including Amazon and cable pay-per-view movies, Blockbuster didn’t stand a chance. It filed for bankruptcy on Sept. 23, 2010. By 2019, all Blockbuster stores had closed … except one.
That’s right, there is still a Blockbuster standing—the last one in the world—and you can visit it in Bend, Oregon.
The Last Blockbuster
There are many fun things to do in and around Bend, including skiing, biking, rafting, exploring the Old Mill District, and trying a craft beer or two; but one of the most iconic places to visit is the last Blockbuster, located at 211 NE Revere Ave. #3, Bend, Oregon.
When my husband and I walked in, we were flooded with memories from 30 years ago. We saw rows of movies from the 1980s, black and white classics, westerns, and even the latest releases. The store was bright and happy, the retail clerks were friendly, and the place was hopping.
Plus, we saw lots of SWAG. And the SWAG is important. According to manager Sandi Harding, these days it is the sale of merchandise that keeps the last Blockbuster afloat. Before spring 2020, they stayed profitable by renting DVDs to the locals. But “COVID killed the rental business,” Ms. Harding said. “It pushed people toward streaming.” However, Ms. Harding pointed out that they still rent movies every day; it remains a major part of their business.
Most of the Blockbuster merchandise is made locally in Bend. Ms. Harding said she wants to “share the love” and support the community that supports her. Visitors can buy Blockbuster themed t-shirts, hats, socks, cups, mugs, keychains, and more. We gladly snapped up a few items ourselves and saw many other people doing the same.
The last Blockbuster attracts tourists from all over the world. While we were there, we noticed three young women from Italy. And in talking to some of the other visitors, I noticed a common theme: a regret that there aren’t more Blockbusters around. It was so refreshing to see an abundance of DVDs available in one place. One lady lamented how she subscribed to multiple streaming services but still can’t find the movies she wants to see. In this Blockbuster, however, she had a wide choice of old and new popular movies.
Even kids too young to remember Blockbuster were excited. It was plain to see that they enjoyed browsing through the aisles, picking up DVDs, and reading descriptions on the back of each cover.
Ms. Harding said they get most of their DVDs from Ingram Entertainment. And just like in the old days, the last Blockbuster keeps its rental system running on original IBM computers, complete with floppy disks.
Blockbuster DVDs rent from 99 cents to $3.99 for new releases. New releases can be kept for three days, and all other discs may be kept for a week. Late fees are 49 cents a day, and after ten days, the movie is automatically sold to the renter’s account. All movies must be picked up from the store and returned in person or via the store’s dropbox.
Ken and Debbie Tisher are the owners of this Blockbuster. They lease the store from Dish Network, which bought Blockbuster in 2014. Eventually, all the corporate and franchised Blockbusters closed, leaving only the one in Bend, Oregon.
Blockbuster is located at 211 NE Revere Ave. #3, Bend, OR 97701
Phone number: 541-385-9111