Soon There Will Be Only One Blockbuster Left in the United States
Posted July 14, 2018 7:31 p.m. EDT
The Blockbuster video store in Bend, Oregon, stands steely and determined, defending itself against the expanding forces of digital streaming services like Netflix and HBO, whose charm is that customers need not get up from the couch.
Soon the store, about 150 miles southeast of Portland, will be the final survivor of the once-popular chain after two Blockbuster stores in Alaska close.
In Alaska, difficulty getting Wi-Fi or broadcast reception had helped keep the brick-and-mortar shops there afloat. But the managers of the stores in Anchorage and Fairbanks announced in a Facebook post Thursday that they would close and planned to sell their inventories.
Blockbuster closed its last few hundred corporate-owned stores in 2013 but privately owned stores that license the Blockbuster brand, like the one in Oregon, have remained.
Sandi Harding, general manager of the Oregon store, who has worked for Blockbuster since 2004, said there are no plans to shut the store any time soon.
“We still have that core group of customers that know we’re local, are very loyal and come in every week,” she said. “Everyone’s tired of sitting at home on their phones and their laptops and not having any personal interactions.”
The Blockbuster in Bend, which has DVDs, Blu-rays and video games, has maintained a small-town approach in its 18 years in business.
Harding said that Tuesday mornings she heads to Walmart or Target to buy the newest movie titles. She goes to Costco to buy candy she sells in the store to reduce the cost of buying it from vendors.
More than a decade ago, Blockbuster had more than 9,000 stores across the United States. Dish Network acquired Blockbuster through a bankruptcy auction in 2011, after the retailer had already been crushed by digital video distributors like Netflix.
A Dish spokesman said there are still licensed Blockbuster stores outside the United States, in countries like Australia, Brazil and Norway.
The store in Anchorage had some time in the limelight this year when the comedian John Oliver, who hosts HBO’s “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver,” bought movie props used by actor Russell Crowe and donated them to be displayed in the store to boost its popularity. Oliver said the show paid $7,000 for a leather jockstrap worn by Crowe in the movie “Cinderella Man,” which Crowe sold in an auction to “celebrate” his divorce.
Alan Payne, the owner of the Alaska stores, said he does not have a plan for the movie memorabilia after the store closes.
Payne said that when he spoke with the television show’s producer this year, he warned that he would likely be closing the Anchorage store soon. The displays did boost tourism, he said, but not enough to save his store.
“There were more things going wrong than a bunch of Russell Crowe stuff could fix,” he said Saturday.
In Fairbanks, the Blockbuster store was a neighborhood staple for many people who could not afford internet or cable, Kelli Vey, the store’s manager, said Saturday.
For some, it was their only option for entertainment if their television antennas did not pick up a signal, said Vey, who has worked for Blockbuster for nearly 30 years.
“I’ve watched these families grow and these young children who used to come in are now coming in with their families,” she said.
Now that the two remaining Alaska stores are succumbing to financial difficulties, Vey has found herself forced to break the bad news to customers who have made shopping at the store a part of their weekly routine.
For example, Vey said a foster mother used renting movies as a way to teach her children about the responsibility of borrowing and budgeting time for entertainment.
Vey said of her customers, “Sadly there aren’t as many of them that have been coming to the store regularly as there are people not coming back anymore.”