What would the last member of a species say as it stares into the abyss of extinction, if it could?
Perhaps it would offer an ode to the many that came before it, each marching toward an unknown destruction, or possibly an enraged screed against the forces that snuffed it from once-flourishing existence.
When it comes to a Blockbuster store in Bend, Oregon, soon to be the last one on Earth, it’s something else: defiant joy.
“The last Blockbuster in Australia is closing at the end of the month making our Bend Store the Last Blockbuster on the Planet!!!!” Sandi Harding, the general manager of the store in Bend, wrote Monday on Facebook. “Holy Cow it’s exciting.”
Harding’s Blockbuster earned awe in July, when two Alaska locations were shuttered, making it the sole survivor from the 9,000 video rental stores in the United States that once stood at the company’s zenith in 2004, before succumbing to the digital whims of once-loyal customers. It also earned exasperation from others who thought the company was already dead. “Why are you still here?” customers asked Harding.
But there was a cousin across the ocean. A Blockbuster outside Perth in western Australia had survived the same annihilating calculus that made video stores untenable: Netflix, Hulu, Redbox. The rise of TV binge-watching, on-demand video and smartphones.
No more. The Perth store rented its last videos Thursday, it announced with “great sadness,” on Facebook, and will reopen to sell its stock on Friday through March 31, when the doors close for good. “It’s been a great ride but all good things must come to an end,” the store wrote on Facebook.
That store is selling everything – even parts of itself, as the Blockbuster is literally dismantled. “DVDs, Blu-Rays, shop fittings and fixtures” will be price-tagged, the store wrote.
Harding announced the Australia store closure with a mix of achievement and sympathy.
“We all have a kinship with the other Blockbusters,” she told CNN. Harding has been with the company for 14 years and joined the Bend location in May 2005.
It has been quite the fall from movie rental primacy. In 1989, a Blockbuster store opened every 17 hours. But in the late 2000s, it seemed that the stores were closing at that same pace. Just a handful survived in the past few years since Dish Network bought the company for $320 million in 2011 and closed most of the remaining locations. The owners of the Bend store pay a licensing fee to Dish Network.
That store has been buoyed by gawkers hit by a wave of nostalgia for what family movie night used to be. Tourists pose for selfies in front of the iconic blue and yellow lettering and occasionally stop in to buy something, Harding said.
Even the IBM computers are relics that wow customers young and old. They run the same floppy disks from the 1990s, Harding told The Washington Post last year. “No one can hack these computers, so that’s a good thing,” she said.
But the store is not a punchline. Customers come from all over to find the films that streaming services and Redbox just don’t carry, she said.
And yet, Blockbuster is a signpost for a bygone era.
In the trailer for “Captain Marvel,” which arrives in theaters Friday, superhero Carol Danvers falls to the Earth and crashes through a store roof like a meteorite. The camera pans to reveal the ‘90s timeline without words – Blockbuster’s trademark torn-ticket marquee.
Perhaps, in a few months, you can find the film on the shelf in Bend.
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