Has it really been that long since we spent countless hours on a Saturday night hoping to find a movie in the “New Release” section of Blockbuster Video? For married couples with children, it became a ritual built out of necessity.
In the 90s and early 2000s, “premium” channels on cable were not available (or affordable), leaving you at the mercy of network programmers. But there was always Blockbuster, that huge store filled with hundreds of video tapes you could just pop into your VCR and watch repeatedly for a day or two to avoid the dreaded late fee.
We would set the kids loose so they could hunt down a favorite movie while perusing the new releases. Of course, by the time you arrived on a Saturday night, you ran into a lot of empty boxes. The savvier video searchers had already staked out the “drop box” behind the register, where all the returns would end up before being restocked onto the shelves. Except most popular movies never made it back onto the shelves, being snapped up like life-saving supplies being distributed to refugees.
About a year ago, the Blockbuster in Bend, OR, garnered the distinction of being the last Blockbuster Video store in the United States still open and renting titles. It seemed like there was a Blockbuster on every other corner at one point as they were opening a new store every 17 hours. With over 9,000 Blockbusters in this country at their peak, every other one has closed its doors for good.
But now, thanks to an announcement out of Western Australia, the Oregon outlet is about to be the last Blockbuster Video store on the planet. The Australia Blockbuster, outside of Perth, rented its last video in February and will close their doors for good at the end of March, remaining open just to sell off everything in the store. Since they are no longer renting movies in Australia, that makes Oregon the last place in the world you can get charged for a late fee.
Although this news may make you feel nostalgic, it shouldn’t make you feel sad. Blockbuster put a lot of mom-and-pop video stores out of business overnight. Local places, like Front Street Video in Massapequa (my favorite place of all time), were only able to stock a few copies of newly released videos at a time because they cost a ton of money to purchase. But like your local deli or butcher, the owners were your neighbors and friends.
They offered special deals, like 2-for-1 on rainy days, or a reservation system, calling you when your title was returned and available. Some provided punch cards where you could rent 10 movies and get one free.
Then Blockbuster came along with their financial backing and corporate purchasing power, able to offer a hundred copies of the same title. Like moths to a flame, people flocked to their brightly lit stores in search of entertainment, severing ties to their local store.
After a while, it became all smoke and mirrors when they couldn’t keep up with the demand. At the height of video rental popularity, your chances of finding one of the hot new releases on a Saturday night at Blockbuster were about the same as they were at Front Street Video: slim and none.
Soon, prices for VCR tapes and DVDs became affordable, signaling the beginning of the end for Blockbuster. Why rent a movie when you could now buy it? Once cable companies started offering affordable, “On Demand” programming, that put the final nail in their coffin.
Except in Bend, Oregon. The last Blockbuster Video store in the World is still renting DVDs. According to Sandi Harding, the general manager, most people are just stopping by now to take selfies and look for hard to find videos.
Guess they still don’t have enough of the new releases.
Paul DiSclafani, a Massapequa resident, is a 2018 Press Club of Long Island award winning columnist and an Anton Media Group contributor since 2016.