The last U.S. Blockbuster thrives on great customer service — and floppy disks

When the Anchorage and Fairbanks locations closed on Monday, a shop in Bend, Ore., became the last Blockbuster standing.

The Bend, Ore., location became the last Blockbuster standing when 2 stores in Alaska closed

Sandi Harding is the general manager of the Blockbuster in Bend, Ore. It's the last remaining Blockbuster in the United States. (Submitted by Sandi Harding)
Listen5:45

Sandi Harding didn't think her Blockbuster location would outlive the last two stores in Alaska.

But when the Anchorage and Fairbanks stores closed on Monday, Harding's rental shop in Bend, Ore., became the last Blockbuster standing in the United States.

"We never thought this day would come," Harding, the store's general manager, told As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch.

"It's so exciting to know that we've done it — that we held out and we lasted doing what we always do and giving the great service that we give."

Once a household name for weekend movie nights, Blockbuster's popularity crashed as online streaming and DVD home delivery services like Netflix grew. In 2010, the chain filed for bankruptcy and three years later, its new parent company, Dish Network, began closing stores.

Despite other Blockbuster stores' misfortune, Bend's location is doing OK, Harding said, adding they've been "pretty busy" the past couple of days.

Community support, she said, is behind its success — and it doesn't hurt that it hasn't changed its prices in at least seven years.

"New releases are $3.99 [US] for anything from three nights to a week," she said.

A view from inside the Bend Blockbuster — complete with a blue and yellow colour scheme. (Sandi Harding)

Floppy disks a 'conversation piece'

For anyone craving a nostalgic trip to the past, the Bend Blockbuster hasn't changed.

The familiar blue-and-yellow movie ticket sign hangs outside and customers still have to present a membership card to rent a movie.

The stores' owners, Ken and Debbie Tisher, haven't even updated their hardware from since '90s.

"We still operate the same computer system we have the entire time," Harding said. "It still has floppy disks."

With aisles of movies and snacks galore, the Bend Blockbuster offers a blast of '90s nostalgia. (Sandi Harding)

Not only has the system become a "conversation piece," she said, but it also has a major benefit: The computers can't be hacked.

"You're not going to see us on the news because, you know, all of our credit card numbers are out there in the world," Harding said.

The store has long been popular and, according to Harding, has been the only store in the U.S. south of Alaska for about five months. That has people lined up snapping selfies and reminiscing.

"The first question [they ask] is, 'How are you still here? Why are you still here?'"

Bittersweet, but fun

Even though Blockbuster's nostalgic appeal seems to be a never-ending story, Harding has little hope for a revival of the iconic brand now that Dish Network owns the name.

Blockbuster doesn't have a corporate office, and new franchise licenses aren't available in the U.S. A relaunch would need a significant investment from the media company.

"But you never know with all the people and all the nostalgia," she said.

A customer takes a selfie on Friday. (Ryan Brennecke/Associated Press)

Harding dismisses rumours the Tishers plan to turn the Bend Blockbuster into a museum when it closes.

"Our endgame is to stay open as long as we possibly can," she said.

While the honour of being America's only Blockbuster is "fun" for the video store team, the distinction is also bittersweet.

"Every time one of the stores closes, it gets a little closer to the end of the era," Harding said.

"It's really sad for us."

Written by Jason Vermes. Produced by Sarah Cooper.

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