Blockbuster was once a retail colossus with more than 9,000 outlets in the US alone back in 2004. Now it is close to oblivion, with only a single store in Bend, Oregon, still operating.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on March 7, 2019

The outlet in Oregon is the last Blockbuster standing after this week’s closure of the second-last store in Morley, a suburb in Perth, Western Australia.

Blockbuster had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy back in 2010 after being overwhelmed by competition from fledgling streaming services like Netflix, online content retailers and, arguably, movie piracy.

In one of the great sliding doors moments of 21st century retail, Netflix founder Reed Hastings had actually approached Blockbuster CEO John Antioco with a proposed partnership which would have seen Blockbuster keep its name and Netflix promote the brand online. In return, Blockbuster would have promoted Netflix in its stores. Antioco laughed at Hastings and dismissed the idea out of hand.

Netflix is now worth US$158 billion.

Blockbuster’s once infallible business model was obliterated in the 2010s

2010 was the year when Blockbuster really began to wilt in the face of increased competition. It claimed that more than 43 million US households held Blockbuster memberships at this time, but its number of US stores went backwards, declining from around 4,000 to 3,425 by October that year.

After an attempted restructure failed to address its spiralling debt, the company filed for bankruptcy. It had already seen two key competitors, Movie Gallery and Hollywood Video, file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation earlier in the year.

At the time, it planned to keep trading at around 3,300 stores but its fortunes continue to decline and more outlets closed. The next year, it was acquired by Dish Network for US4320 million. Dish also assumed US$87 million in liabilities. The new owner planned more aggressive cutting of stores, initially announcing it would only keep around 500 stores operating in the US.

By 2011, it was belatedly trying to reposition itself as a Netflix competitor, offering a streaming service as well as movies and video games sent via mail. The attempted pivot lasted only a year before being quietly scrapped.

A later attempt to reimagine the stores as more general retailers or convenience stores with a core of movie rentals failed to lift Blockbuster out of the mire. Misguided management was blamed in some quarters for its failure to successfully reposition itself in a post-Netflix world.

The last Blockbuster store is now embracing its status as a nostalgia haven

The second last Blockbuster store in the US had been located in Anchorage, Alaska. It recently hit the headlines when it became the unlikely home for Russell Crowe’s jockstrap from the film Cinderella Man that the actor auctioned off last year.

When the Alaskan store closed earlier this year, District Manager Kelli Vey and General Manager Kevin Daymude shared an emotional tribute to the store on Facebook. “It is sad to say goodbye to our dedicated customers. We have thought of you as family for the past 28 years,” they wrote. “Thank you for sticking by us throughout all these years. I can’t tell you how much it means to us.”

There is some evidence of nostalgia for the stores; Target is already selling T-shirts with an image of the Blockbuster store and its one-time slogan ‘Make it a Blockbuster night’.

A documentary crew is capturing the goings on at the store. People take selfies outside the boxy blue and yellow building and come in to buy Blockbuster-themed merchandise. General Manager Sandi Harding says it is leaning into its status as an outlier and being the last of its kind “is not hurting us”. She said people have come from all across the world to bask in the memories.

The Bend, Oregon store has no plans to close. It has 4,000 active accounts and is growing.