The Blockbuster Video in Bend, Oregon, is a survivor. After the one in Perth, Australia, closed last March, it became the last Blockbuster on earth. And even though streaming services make it easy to find something to watch from the comfort and safety of home, it’s still attracting customers in the middle of the pandemic.
The store closed for a few days in March to regroup before reopening with curbside-only service that wasn’t a huge success. Without the pleasure of strolling through the aisles, picking up DVD cases and contemplating renting them, it could only attract 10-15 customers a day, what GM Sandi Harding calls a “drop in the bucket” of its normal business.
“You’re in a tight spot, because part of you is looking at the economics of it and thinking ‘I have to have customers coming and spending money, or my business isn’t going to be viable.’ But at the same time, I’m like the Blockbuster Mom,” Harding told VICE. “These are my kids that work here, the customers are my family and, my gosh, I can’t put them at risk either. Your heart is just torn in two different directions.”
A second closure followed and, thankfully, a Paycheck Protection Program Loan did as well. The owners continued to pay their employees, and many of them joined Harding to take inventory and replace the labels on all 22,000 DVD cases.
They also readied for reopening, taping arrows on the floors, installing social distancing markers, and stocking up on gloves and masks. Now, the store is welcoming customers again, 10 at a time.
“I had a customer come in and she said, ‘I am so grateful that you reopened, because I couldn’t flip through Netflix one more time,'” Harding said.
“The longer it goes on, the more stress there is for everyone, and the more I’m like ‘Oh gosh, can we really sustain this? […] But we’re still making plans and pushing forward and we’re the last one for a reason. We don’t go down without a fight. So we’re going to keep fighting for a while.”