Despite the Pandemic, "The Last Blockbuster" Perseveres

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Despite the Pandemic, "The Last Blockbuster" Perseveres

One has to hope that if the Last Blockbuster is still standing when this viral pandemic is finally over, the rest of society will be strong enough to be there alongside it.

We’ve written before about the stubborn will to live displayed by the Last Blockbuster. In 2018, the last remaining U.S. locations of the movie rental chain closed in Alaska, leaving the Bend, OR location as the final in this country. Then in 2019, the only other location in Perth, Australia closed, which made the Oregon Blockbuster truly the world’s last. That made it a true novelty, and the location even got a collaboration beer with a local brewery by way of celebration. All that, and they run a frequently hilarious Twitter account with almost 400,000 followers.

But the coronavirus pandemic was always going to pose a major challenge for the final Blockbuster, especially in a time when people are being told to stay inside their homes and rely on entertainment that is easily accessed at their fingertips. This particular turn of events would seem to spell death for that brave little Blockbuster, but instead the store finds itself hanging in there. It’s the subject of a new interview at Vice, with general manager and self-proclaimed “Blockbuster Mom” Sandi Harding, who details how the location has managed to stay afloat in conditions that have already put so many businesses underwater.

“The longer it goes on, the more stress there is for everyone, and the more I’m like ‘Oh gosh, can we really sustain this?” Harding says in the interview. “But we’re still making plans and pushing forward and we’re the last one for a reason. We don’t go down without a fight. So we’re going to keep fighting for a while.”

The location initially shut down for a few days in order to plan, before opening for curbside movie rental services—customers could simply call in, request a film, and then pick it up in person. This model wasn’t producing nearly enough customers to keep the lights on, however, so Harding went back to the drawing board. She and her team developed new social distancing aids in the store, did a full inventory of all 22,000 DVDs and Blu-rays on hand, and reopened for a maximum of 10 customers at a time, which is where the Last Blockbuster now finds itself—battered, but appreciated by its regulars.

“I had a customer come in and she said, ‘I am so grateful that you reopened, because I couldn’t flip through Netflix one more time,’” Harding said.

The most shocking thing offered up by the longtime general manager, though, is totally unrelated to the quarantine, and indicative of the exact degree to which this Blockbuster has become an aberration. The Last Blockbuster has actually outlived its own local DVD supplier, meaning that it’s apparently no longer able to get direct shipments of new releases to stock its shelves. Instead, it’s Harding to has to go out to local stores such as Walmart, buying new releases with cash, before taking them back to her business to put on the shelf of the world’s last Blockbuster. That’s 40 or more copies of a film such as The Call of the Wild, which Harding is physically tracking down to keep the Blockbuster in business. It’s equal parts inspiring and confounding.

Ultimately, though, it’s impossible not to end up rooting for the Last Blockbuster—the former chain store that has become a truly unique tourist destination. Hopefully, even those who are just passing through Bend and want to take a photo with the old Blockbuster sign will pop in to buy a box of Sno-Caps and keep the Last Blockbuster around a little longer.

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