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Rated N for Nostalgia: The Final Blockbuster Surviving 2020

I spend more time in my head holding onto the past and, at times, reliving those moments. Last night, I went online to a rock n’ roll memorabilia collectors forum to buy a Greenday guitar pick for $60 because I lost the one that the guitarist gave me when I was a kid. 

I don’t listen to Greenday much anymore, but that 1997 moment energizes me. I’m excited to see what I’ll reminisce about in the future. Will my memories inspire joy? Will my dopamine go into overdrive and leave me grinning with a 14-teeth smile. Perhaps 30 years from now, I might even look back at this article for the nostalgia of the days when I was a writer. 

Why do humans continue to live in this illusion? Perhaps we yearn for the past happiness like it is a campfire that is too far away to keep you warm? Do we feel exasperated with the world of today? Do we look fondly back at the good ole’ days as if they are a gleaming photograph of a past lover in a relationship long since gone dry? Perhaps the “PAST-ure” is greener on the other side. Still, generation Z is missing out on culture and wisdom gained through a business that checked-out movies like a library to you and your friends on a Friday night called Blockbuster.  

In 1985, the first Blockbuster opened up on October 15th in Dallas, Texas, which curated more than 8,000 VHS tapes and 2,000 Beta tapes. Two years later, that small family-owned business won a court case against Nintendo for adding games to their weekend entertainment repertoire. That case led to Blockbuster becoming a household name. For the next 28 years, Blockbuster was a reward for children who got good grades. Before Blockbuster went bust, it was the premiere chill at-home date night option—the father of “Netflix and Chill.”

Going to Blockbuster in my younger days searching for the perfect movie was an event in itself. The ritual “act one” before you even get to “Act Two,” watching the movie. We’d suss the aisles contemplating action or comedy—new release or classic. Sometimes we’d spend over an hour walking out with nothing more than a few laughs and be okay with it. In the end, it was never about the movie. Like vintage shopping, it was the hunt. 

Ever spent a day with someone special to you doing ordinary things, not even realizing it’d be the last time you’d ever see them. In 2013 on River Oaks in Houston, Texas, I visited Blockbuster for the final time. The rest of the world experienced my loss when the final 300 Blockbusters shuttered their doors in 2014. 

All except for one. In Bend, Oregon, with just under 100,000 residents living in the area, one singular Blockbuster survived the storm and still stands today. 

Let us fast forward to today and the low points of 2020. A reality tv show host is the president of the United States. Social media banished pineapples from pizza. Taco Bell just recently eliminated 12 menu items. All in all, times haven’t been weirder, and here I am walking into the last surviving Blockbuster. Swinging the entrance door open and placing my tennis shoes on that fuzzy blue entry welcome mat that embraced the company’s logo, the infamous torn Blockbuster ticket stub. 

It was an Instagram haven, a playground for wannabe influencers. Everyone had their smartphones out, taking photos for their Snapchats and Tik Tok’s. It was pure ecstasy for those who lived a life before Netflix. 

“Besides Disney land, it’s one place that everyone comes in smiling!” said Sandi Harding, the last remaining blockbuster general manager on the planet. 

Remember what I wrote above about nostalgia? This is it. It felt like the movie “A Beautiful Mind,” featuring Russell Crow as John Nash. It felt like the scene when Crowe’s Nash was solving an equation in his head, except it was my every memory of Blockbuster zipping by right behind my eyes. 

I fondly remember discovering Cannibal the Musical from Troma Productions. I reminisced about the time I asked an employee for the classic rollerblading movie Airborne‘s movie poster. I laugh when I think about the time I discussed renting “Color of Night” with a friend because someone in school mentioned a hot nude scene. I will never forget nervously walking around the horror section with my first girlfriend, wondering which movie would have her move a bit closer. In hindsight, I learned that it doesn’t happen in real life. Girls only hide their eyes in boyfriend’s jackets on television. 

I am standing in a time capsule, a museum, and a future memory, but yet I wasn’t because here I am standing in between the isles of drama and comedy. “”I haven’t stepped into a Blockbuster in about 17 years, and nothing has changed,” said Jordan Graber of Houston, TX. So exactly how did this end up becoming the last standing Blockbuster on the planet?

This location is the 30th year as a video store and the 20th anniversary as a Blockbuster.

“We franchised into Blockbuster in 2000. The irony is that the Blockbuster franchises ran the mom and pop’s out. We franchised, stuck around, and now we owe us to them. We haven’t lost the irony in that.” Sandi added, “The coolest part is that my aunt owned a movie rental store. My whole family has worked at Blockbuster. My husband worked at a Blockbuster before we were married. I began working here as a part-time job, and now this is where I am.”  

Sandi reminds me of Lt. Dan, who came from a family that served in the United States military, with each member being killed in every American war. “It’s a long great, military tradition.”, explains Forrest Gump. Thankfully, Sandi’s family can all live to tell the tale of rewinding countless VHS tapes from customers ignoring the “be kind” sticker.

While all the streaming services took over our Friday night shenanigans and tossed video rental stores into the dumpster, we now choose our movies at the click of a button. “It was a double edge sword. It made it easier to watch movies and have access, but at the same time, it took away the specialness. Going to Blockbuster was an event.”, said Jordan Graber, a tourist visiting the last standing Blockbuster on the planet. As Jordan walked out of the store, he glanced back into the video store and watched a local man return a DVD into the drop bin. “This felt good. It was a nice closure to a relationship,” said Jordan as he made his final goodbye. 

For travelers like Jordan, whose visit has had its credits recently end, they can sustain that feeling a bit longer through memorabilia sold by the location. 

 “All orders are processed by Blockbuster employees, and merchandise is made here in the Bend, Oregon community. We are back-ordered right now. The beanies that you can order online, I actually knitted myself. I had them all in stock, but not for the hundreds of orders that I got,” Sandi explained proudly while

she is showed me the headquarters for all Blockbuster merchandise.

The final blockbuster location sells beanies, bumper stickers, hoodies, sweatpants, hats, refrigerator magnets, and yes, membership cards. All locally manufactured here in Bend, Oregon. 

As if that’s not enough for the fallen empire of movie rental stores (Sorry Family Video), a movie directed by Taylor Morden called The Last Blockbuster was released this past July. The movie hones in on the nostalgia of this video store. It stars Kevin Smith, Paul Sheer, Lloyd Kaufman of Troma Videos, Doug Benson, and of course, Sandi Harding, the general manager to the last standing Blockbuster on the planet. 

It’s been quite a year for Blockbuster, and what was thought to be a marketing project was actually a large smile blanketed as a thank you note. For three one-night-only beginning this Friday on September 17th, you and your family can AirBNB at Blockbuster and “Make it a Blockbuster Night” literally and overnight. 

“With this type of continued support, Blockbuster will last for many many many years. We have the locals coming in with all of their support, and when the tourists go home, we want to stay open, and we need that. So we did the AirBNB event as a thank you,” said Sandi with such a loud smile. For Deschutes County residents only, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, a family each will have their own night for the price one movie rental, $4. Up to 4 people from the same household can stay each night. “The doors will be locked. I’ll be here to hand over the key, and we’ll have security in the front to ensure no one is taking pictures to respect their privacy.”, explains Sandi. Like a hot concert, it was booked and sold out within two minutes. 

In partnership with Airbnb, the alternative hotel site will make a gratuitous donation to the Humane Society of Central Oregon. This isn’t the only themed Airbnb that has been up for grabs. In 2016, in New York, TMNT partnered with AirBNB for guests to hang out in the ninja turtles’ lair, in Olympia, WA, one can check in to Kurt Cobain’s home where he wrote the album, Nevermind, and right now, the fresh prince, Will Smith now invites you to his crib in Belair. Airbnb’s donation for this event will go to the Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia for the youth. So book a date at the mansion and be polite and respect the home, or Uncle Phil just might toss you out the door like Jazzy Jeff

For those who don’t live in Deschutes County, you can still make it a Blockbuster night by signing up with DISH, where Blockbuster can give you access to movies at the click of a button. 

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Written by Robert Laurence

Prolific Big Foot Hunter, Magic Maker, and Vanilla Malt Maker.

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