Perhaps this is my age showing, but there’s a time where I fondly remember going to a video rental store to pick out a movie and have fun with it for a few days. There was a local video store in my neighborhood where we’d constantly go to for movies, though most of the time I just rented from their NES games, usually the game show ones. Though I did constantly see stuff like Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode and Fester’s Quest but never really got curious enough to play them.
Then Blockbuster Video opened up in the late 1980s. When the 1990s hit, they started to expand, appearing all around the United States. At this point, the local video rental store wasn’t the hot place anymore as we rented from both Blockbuster and its rival Hollywood Video more often as they had the newest stuff more immediately. Said video store has since shut down and been replaced by a Mexican food store. I still kinda miss that place.
Blockbuster was often our family’s go to for recent movies and video games. A fair share of games I played during the SNES and Genesis era came from Blockbuster. In an old post I made about my mom’s love for ToeJam and Earl, I mentioned that I still have the cartridge which was engraved with “Blockbuster Video” on the back. Still do, and it brings some nostalgic memories of not just my mother but also this video store chain.
But then we get into the 2000s, with internet streaming slowly becoming a thing. Netflix comes around and does similar services to Blockbuster Video but without all those late fees. They try to compete but it’s too late. Even with trying to be antagonistic towards Netflix with a somewhat infamous tweet, it isn’t enough. Blockbuster Video stores start closing in the US. The one that was in my area gets replaced by various stores including a Cricket Wireless store and a doctor’s office.
Normally, that would be the end of the tale. A business that muscled its way into being the primary market for something, got blindsided by new technology, and then just fizzled away to a past nostalgic memory. Blockbuster Video isn’t much of an entity in the United States these days. Except for one.
Bend, Oregon has what is considered to be “The Last Blockbuster Video on the Planet,” and that store became somewhat legendary because of its staying power, being the last open store as of 2019. I’ve gone on camping trips near La Pine, Oregon over the years and every time we always drove past that Blockbuster, even though we were aware of how famous it was now. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I was genuinely worried about that place shutting down due to lagging sales as many other businesses did, thus not giving me the opportunity to visit what was considered a cultural landmark. Thankfully that didn’t happen, and I was able to visit it this year.
This particular Blockbuster Video is quite an interesting place. It has the familiar yellow and blue logos, it’s got the same color scheme around the whole store, it even has a lot of stuff that’s very reminiscent of a late 1990s era Blockbuster. Even the white rental case with the Blockbuster logo was around some of the merchandise, of which I’ll get to in a bit.
Naturally since it’s meant to be a place dedicated to movies, the Blockbuster Video had a fair share of movie memorabilia – props, scripts, and notes to name a few – as well as an old TV/VCR combo with various old classic movies on VHS. Even on one section of the store they had a small wall of VHS tapes from around the 80s-90s, with some relatively notable films in the set. It was a nice collage.
While The Last Blockbuster is a place that’s celebrating a brand that brought nostalgia to lots of people, it is still a business. Yes, they still allow you to rent movies from there. And not just old movies, I saw recent releases like Disney’s Turning Red on there, something I didn’t think would still be on DVD and Blu-ray in the modern streaming age. You can still rent movies just like the old days, but they added a rule where in lieu of late fees, they’ll charge you the price of the movie if you kept for a month or more. That’s honestly a nice touch. Makes Blockbuster Video feel a bit more benevolent than its ruthless past of ridiculous rental fees.
Of course, they also sold DVD movies, much like most stores, where one can buy movies in the usual “5 for $20” kind of deal. They even had a small section for VHS movies. While there wasn’t anything there that really caught my interest on that, it was neat to see that while they’re sticking to some of their roots, they’re trying to keep up with modern trends.
The only downside is that there was no video game stuff to rent or buy there. I get that video gaming these days has mostly gone to digital downloads, but it would’ve been funny to be able to like, rent an Xbox 360 game or something. Cause to me, Blockbuster was not just a place to rent movies, it was a place to check out games as well. Ah, the memories of renting Donkey Kong Country 3 only to find out the overworked underpaid clerk put in the original Donkey Kong Country instead. Oh well, guess I’ll have to live with this GameCube copy of 2002 FIFA World Cup a neighbor gave me with the Blockbuster case still on it, that’s close enough.
Since this has become a tourist attraction for Bend, there’s a fair share of gift shop stuff such as mugs, cups, hats, shirts, puzzles, and even a documentary of this cultural artifact. Naturally I had to buy a whole bunch of stuff from there, in true tourist fashion. I also ended up buying some popcorn and candy from there, which I didn’t need to do, but it’s funny to say I’m eating popcorn that I bought at The Last Blockbuster. (I ended up eating those Sour Skittles and had my tongue hurt a lot the next day.)
If you ever get the chance to visit Bend, Oregon, I implore you to check out the Blockbuster Video there. As someone who grew up going to Blockbuster Video all the time — so much so that I remember recreating a Blockbuster store in LEGO — it was a good way to fondly remember a place that I hold some memories to. Yeah, Blockbuster was a part of the problem with capitalism, where big companies squeeze out the little guys; but since it blew up in their face, this Blockbuster has become much like the mom-and-pop video shops it once took over. There’s sort of an amusing irony to it all, really.
(My apologies for being mostly quiet on the blog this month. I had a fair share of personal stuff I had to get done, which really didn’t give me a lot of time to find something to write about until now. I hope this little blurb about my trip excursion is sufficient enough. An “I Bought Some Stuff!” and another article will likely be made sometime in the future.)