Back in the day, Friday nights weren’t complete without a trip to Blockbuster.
At the height of its popularity, there were about 9,000 stores.
Now, there is just one.
The Last Blockbuster is in Bend, Oregon.
Walking into the store is like taking a trip down memory lane: there are rows of movie rentals, the yellow walls, candy and snacks and even that familiar “Blockbuster” smell.
The store is the last of its kind. The people who work there try hard to keep it open, using a combination of nostalgia and merchandise to keep the memory alive.
The store has long since retired VHS rentals, these days you can only get DVDs. A rental is $4 and late fees are capped at $10.
You can even still open up a new membership, although cards are now handwritten instead of printed since the ancient dot matrix printers the chain used are now all gone.
Many visitors opt for a $2 souvenir membership card, one of the many ways the store stays in business.
It’s almost like a functioning Blockbuster Museum. General Manger Sandi Harding tells me that the top sellers are a hat and T-Shirt.
Harding’s worked there since 2004, and even then, she wasn’t sure how many years of life the store had left.
A Netflix documentary titled “The Last Blockbuster” in 2020 breathed new life into the store and made it a stop for many traveling through this small Oregon town.
“Everything is exactly the same as it was 20 years ago,” said Harding. “People a lot of times think it’s because we have terrible Wi-Fi that must be why we have a Blockbuster still, that is not the case.
“Just to put it in perspective, about half the population would be in a video store every week,” explained Alan Payne, author of Built to Fail, a book about the rise and fall of Blockbuster.
Blockbuster wasn’t in a good position to compete with alternatives including DVDs by mail and kiosk.
“It’s interesting to note that Blockbuster was really in a broken company in dire financial conditions before Netflix ever started streaming,” said Payne.
The company filed for bankruptcy in 2010, just as streaming started to take off.
While Friday night at the video store is becoming a distant memory, the Bend Blockbuster is the last place you can bring it all back.
“I think we have a couple more years left,” concluded Harding with a smile.