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America's Last Blockbuster: 'There's A Line Of Customers At The Store Right Now'

Jul 16, 2018
Originally published on July 16, 2018 12:56 pm
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Noel, I don't know about you. I remember what it was like when there was a movie you really wanted to see, it was no longer in theaters, and, like, your only choice was to go to a brick-and-mortar store like Blockbuster, where I think I still have some late rental fees that are probably still adding up.

NOEL KING, HOST:

(Laughter).

GREENE: But it was - I mean, it was an American institution.

KING: I remember the days. Yeah, Blockbuster was all over. At one point, there were 9,000 Blockbuster stores in the United States.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: The perfect video store...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Welcome to Blockbuster Video.

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: ...Is popping up all over the country. There's one near you.

KING: That was a Blockbuster ad from the 1990s, back in the days of be kind; rewind.

GREENE: Which I always did every time I returned a movie. It is a lot harder now to find a Blockbuster close to you unless you happen to live near Bend, Ore., home to what will soon become the last Blockbuster Video in the entire U.S.

KING: That's right. There were three. The other two were in Alaska. One was in Fairbanks, and one was in Anchorage. But they are closing. Jordan Rudner lives in Anchorage, and she and her roommates were big Blockbuster customers.

JORDAN RUDNER: So I love that Blockbuster. I go there all the time. So do my roommates. I think the first time I went to the Blockbuster, it was kind of a joke. Like, oh, it's crazy that Blockbuster still exists. But it just became our regular video store.

GREENE: Rudner does not have Wi-Fi, but she says there would still be reasons to go to Blockbuster even if she had it.

RUDNER: The variety you could find at Blockbuster was way more than they had on most of the streaming platforms that I know. Plus, it was, like, 79 cents a night.

KING: Sadly, unless she's looking to make a trip to Bend, Ore., she's out of luck for now.

GREENE: Yeah. Sandi Harding is the general manager of that final store in Bend, Ore. We called her yesterday. She said her location has not been hurting for business.

SANDI HARDING: In fact, there's a line of customers at the store right now that are all staring at me as I'm walking around with the phone in my ear.

KING: And she says those customers are all ages.

HARDING: I know a lot of people assume that we just have a lot of elderly customers coming in here that don't have the Internet or don't have Netflix at home, and that's not the case. We have a lot of people in their 30s that want their kids to have the same experience they did growing up. We have a lot of millennials coming in just for the experience of not ever being in a Blockbuster before.

KING: And now that it's become so rare to see a Blockbuster in operation, that is bringing visitors to the store, including some tourists from Australia and the U.K.

GREENE: Yeah. Harding says her store has carved out a niche for itself among her customers, even as these brand-new fancy services like Netflix and Hulu have emerged.

HARDING: I think that newness is starting to wear off and people are starting to realize that there's something missing when it comes to a Blockbuster Video store or any type of brick-and-mortar store.

KING: Now, if you're worried about the closing of the last Blockbuster in the U.S., don't worry. Harding says she sees no indication of that happening anytime soon.

(SOUNDBITE OF JIZUE'S "STORY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.