Last American Blockbuster is in Oregon

NEW YORK • And then there was one.

The Blockbuster video store in Bend, Oregon, stands steely and determined, defending itself against the expanding forces of digital streaming services such as Netflix and HBO, whose charm is that customers need not get up from the couch.

Soon, the store, about 240km south-east of Portland, will be the final survivor of the once-popular chain in the United States, 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 last 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.

Ms 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.

Ms Harding said she heads to Walmart or Target on Tuesday mornings 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 US.

Dish Network acquired Blockbuster through a bankruptcy auction in 2011, after the retailer had already been crushed by digital video distributors such as Netflix.

A Dish spokesman said there are still licensed Blockbuster stores outside the US, in countries such as Australia, Brazil and Norway.

The store in Anchorage had some time in the limelight this year, when 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 US$7,000 (S$9,520) for a leather jockstrap worn by Crowe in the movie Cinderella Man (2005), which the actor sold in an auction to "celebrate" his divorce.

Mr Alan Payne, owner of the Alaska stores, said he does not have a plan for the movie memorabilia after the stores close.

He 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.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2018, with the headline 'Last American Blockbuster is in Oregon'. Print Edition | Subscribe