You may think Blockbuster is a thing of the past. A relic that many Americans remember fondly, but moved on to the likes of HBO and Showtime and now, Netflix and Redbox. Except in the town of Bend, Oregon. Here you’ll find the last of the iconic Blockbusters. Believe it or not, there is one last living legend of film entertainment where, if you still have your old laminated membership card, you can rent yourself a DVD.
Back in the day, before movies online and on demand, Blockbuster was the king of movie entertainment. It was a refuge for millions of people who worked all day and looked forward to a little escape in the evening. It was a good way to save time and money. To avoid large crowds, unwanted theater-talkers, and overpriced snacks. To simply relax at home with a few hours of comedy, romance, thrills, horrors or action-adventures—even a foreign film for an evening of culture (pretend or otherwise). Not to mention a great way to keep the kids quiet. Renting cartoons and popular children’s films was a way to reward kids and keep the peace over the weekend.
Not much has changed over the years at the Bend location. The ubiquitous blue and gold color scheme, the snack shelves (Milk Duds, anyone?), popcorn ceilings and even the computer system (IBM) is exactly the same. Former employees stop by every so often, go behind the counter and are still able to navigate it. And maybe that is why this particular location has made it longer than any other. It’s a team effort and a family affair. The owners of the store, Ken and Debbie Tisher, are a husband and wife team. The general manager, Sandi Harding, has worked at this location since 2004. Her husband, Brad, worked in a corporate Blockbuster store in a nearby town and their three sons all worked at this location, where her youngest is now assistant manager.
Most of their new releases come from a company called Vobile, Inc., but it’s not as easy as it used to be to keep their impressive 12,000-title collection stocked. Sandi says the effort they put forth to find and maintain their inventory means a lot to their longtime loyal customers and she spends a good bit of her time driving around to local retailers for Disney films and TV shows, some of the items that are no longer distributed to them. Former customers also send her movies. “People send me VHS tapes that they had simply never returned,” Sandi says. “They want to see if I will forgive their late fees.” Hint: She will.
Sandi mentions that since the last few stores in Alaska announced they were closing last year, a lot of people have made the pilgrimage to her store. She’s even put out a guestbook for enthusiasts to sign and has filled two already. “We’ve had people from London, Taiwan, South Africa, Canada and, of course, all over the U.S. One time I received a handwritten letter from a lady on the East Coast who had heard this was the last location and, since she could not come by, enclosed a $5 donation to help keep the store going.”
What is the future for this final but flourishing destination? As for now, it’s more than just movie rentals. They’ve had a Blockbuster Beer crafted by a local brewer, once a month they host a comedy and trivia night with the local Bend Comedy Club, and they’ve held a successful early morning dance party. Plus, one die-hard Blockbuster fan has started a petition to make this beloved Blockbuster a landmark.
So, it may not be curtains for Blockbuster after all.
Want to sign that petition? Click here!
By Kara Killen, contributor for Ripleys.com