First Netflix, Now COVID: How the Last Blockbuster Is Surviving Latest Blow

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In this file photo, Sandi Harding, general manager of the last Blockbuster on the planet in Bend, Ore., poses for a photo inside the store on Monday, March 11, 2019. Harding is holding up the floppy disc she uses to reboot her computer and the reel-to-reel tape used to back up transactions. (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus, File)
December 7, 2020
Before streaming appeared to be endangering the movie theater industry, the video rental store was considered to be the deathblow to cinemas. But those outlets dealing in everything from VHS to DVDs, from mom-and-pop shops to global chains, were the ones to fall first -- except one.
The Last Blockbuster is a soon-to-be-released documentary about the last surviving store in the once-massive retail chain. Still standing in Bend, Oregon, the video purveyor's manager, Sandi Harding, spoke to Cheddar about her motivations for keeping the nostalgia going for a bygone era.
"I feel like I'm giving everybody just a little bit of something special," said Harding, who's been running the shop since 2004. "We all know that movies are a great escape and what better way to escape life than being able to go into the last standing Blockbuster with a smile on your face?"
However, providing that escape became even more difficult amid the pandemic this year. Harding described the outlet's movie vendor closing and feeling "the pinch" on May 1 when there were no new products to be delivered. 
The coronavirus even forced the store to change how it delivered its products.
"We were able to offer curbside service, so we were still able to come up with a unique, different way to keep servicing our customers," she said. "Even when people weren't feeling safe coming into the store."
Unfortunately, the big draw for a throwback like Blockbuster might be the ability to browse the racks of movies, and the pandemic put a pause on that activity. Harding said that to compensate, her employees provided more movie recommendations and walked the aisles with customers on the phone.
"It's not ever going to be the same as it would be if you were there yourself, but if we can try to provide a little bit of normalcy, that's a good thing," Harding explained.
Despite the touristy novelty of being the last Blockbuster, the store manager noted that the survival of the business relies on its community and loyal customers. Not to mention, the ironic addition of an online sales business.
"We have a booming online business that we never in a million years thought we would ever be doing, which we're very grateful for. That has definitely helped us through the pandemic," she said. 
In an odd twist of history, 20 years ago the Blockbuster corporation once had the opportunity to buy the business that would help seal its fate: Netflix. At the time, the DVD delivery-only company offered to sell itself to Blockbuster for a mere $50 million, but then-CEO John Antioco turned them down.
"I try not to dwell too much on it, because there's not really much that we can do about it," Harding revealed. "I wasn't a part of that conversation or those decisions, and so I just try to keep moving forward. That's the only thing we can ever do."
The store also made another foray into modern tech after Harding listed it on Airbnb for end-of-summer sleepovers in August as a gesture of appreciation to the local community that has helped it survive over the years.
Ironically, The Last Blockbuster will be available via video on demand on December 15.
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