When was the last time you walked into a Blockbuster Video store? Chances are it’s been a while. More importantly, did you know that your last visit to a Blockbuster was going to be your last? I didn’t when my local store closed, so I decided to remedy that and make what would likely be my last visit one to remember.
At one point, there were close to 9,000 Blockbuster stores around the world. Even at a time when I saw stores closing, I never thought (or perhaps wouldn’t accept) that all stores would be gone one day. Sure, streaming was taking over the way the public was renting and viewing movies, but surely Blockbuster would remain in some capacity, right?
When the number of Blockbuster stores began to fall sharply, I started paying attention. When I was in high school, working at my local Blockbuster Video was a dream job. To this day, I still have extremely fond memories of it. There was something thrilling about the huge lines wrapping through the store on Friday and Saturday nights while all six registers were open, frantically helping customers with their rentals. Plus, the unlimited free rentals with early access for employees didn’t hurt either.
Given my fond memories of not only the job, but also walking through those rental aisles with my siblings, I just knew that I had to create a better memory for my last Blockbuster visit. Enter Bend, Ore., home to the last Blockbuster. In 2019, the Bend store became the last Blockbuster when multiple stores in Alaska shut down. I was immediately intrigued and knew that I had to visit.
The spotlight began to shine even brighter on the Bend Blockbuster when a documentary titled “The Last Blockbuster” began streaming on Netflix on March 15, 2021. In the documentary, it is revealed that this last store needs to renew their contract with Dish Network (who owns Blockbuster) every year in order to keep the branding and name. Learning this fact lit a bit of a flame under my butt. How long will it be before the last Blockbuster is gone altogether? It’ll hopefully be a while, but there are no guarantees.
So, I packed up my bags and my Blockbuster membership card (for real), and flew from Los Angeles, Calif. to Portland, Ore. It was only my second time in Portland, and I must say that I love it there. One of my days was fully dedicated to Blockbuster. I hopped in the car for a three-hour drive from Portland to Bend, and it was all worth every hoop I jumped through.
If you’ve seen “The Last Blockbuster” documentary, you know the shining light keeping the last Blockbuster alive is store manager, Sandi Harding. Of course, I wanted to meet Harding, but I knew there was no guarantee. She deserves a day off, too. But luckily, my Blockbuster-nerdiness allowed our paths to cross. What I mean by that is, I showed up in my full Blockbuster uniform from my high school days. I may have returned every rental on time, but I didn’t return that iconic uniform. Shhhh, don’t tell corporate!
It was because of my Blockbuster wardrobe that I heard “Nice shirt,” shouted in my direction immediately after stepping out of the rental car. At first, I shouted back a quick “Thank you,” but when my eyes saw who the compliment was coming from, I quickly shouted back, “Sandi!” You see, she was walking through the parking lot to her car after a day of work. Had I not been wearing that “embarrassing” (according to my friend) wardrobe, Harding would have never shouted toward me, and we would have never met. It was meant to be, and Harding was as lovely and kind as expected. I enjoyed chatting with her for a bit before I entered the store and she continued on her way home.
As I stepped inside the store, it was buzzing with activity. I’m not exaggerating at all when I say that people travel from all over the world to visit the last Blockbuster. I’m sure this sounds crazy to some, but if you grew up in the 1980s and ‘90s, Blockbuster likely made a huge impact on your life. It was an event going to the video store and selecting a movie to enjoy. Streaming is nice and convenient, but it lacks the tangible experience we as humans love to have. If there’s anything we’ve learned over the past year, it’s that interacting with other people is something that humans naturally crave. We need it to be happy.
The most common question I get from people when they hear that I visited the last Blockbuster is, “Do they still rent movies?” The answer is yes. This is a real video rental store that continues to rent DVDs and Blu-rays to local customers. That is the business that has kept them alive all of these years. Of course, they’re not as busy as they once were when it comes to rentals, but now nostalgia is paying a lot of the bills.
The Bend Blockbuster recognizes this bizarre phenomenon that has put them on the map, and they are happy to take advantage of it through merchandising. There are lots of options, from shirts to sweats, bumper stickers, baby clothes, magnets, membership cards, hats, trading cards and more. They even have adult onesies for purchase. Another great thing about the merchandise available is that it’s not only supporting the last Blockbuster, but Harding sources as much of the merchandise as possible from local businesses. If you’re unable to make it to Blockbuster but would like some merchandise for yourself, you can visit the official last Blockbuster website and order items there to support the store.
Since Blockbuster is now a nostalgia destination, the store also sells used VHS tapes and has created a piece of VHS wall art for guests to enjoy. Along the back wall of the store, there are some small display cases showing off movie and Blockbuster memorabilia through the years. The walls are adorned with newspaper clippings about the last Blockbuster, along with letters and autographs from celebrities like Kevin Smith, who wrote in to share their memories.
After spending a few hours browsing the aisles to see what old and current movies were available, I approached the register with my arms full of last Blockbuster merchandise and got ready to bid a fond farewell to the iconic yellow and blue store. I did have them scan my old Blockbuster membership card for fun before purchasing a new keepsake one. My old card did indeed scan, and luckily, I had no late fees.
Overall, I had a fantastic time visiting the last Blockbuster, and Oregon in general. If you have fond memories of roaming (or working) those video store aisles, I highly suggest making the pilgrimage for yourself. You still have the chance to make it a Blockbuster night one more time.
Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voiceover artist living in Los Angeles. He can be heard as the voice of Disney Trivia on Alexa as well as the host of “Dizney Coast to Coast,” the ultimate, unofficial Disney fan podcast. Get your FREE gifts of “America’s Hidden Mickeys,” “On the Rohde Again,” “Theme Park Comfort Kit” and more at DizneyCoastToCoast.com.