The true end of an American institution draws closer, as after two closings in Alaska, only one Blockbuster Video remains in business in the U.S. It might seem like a lifetime ago to many, but before subscription streaming services like Netflix and Amazon dominated the home video rental market, the good old-fashioned video store was king. The biggest player in that industry up until its final gasps as a major force was Blockbuster Video, which employed over 58,000 people and operated over 4500 stores in the U.S. at the company's peak in 2004.
Blockbuster Video was founded in 1985, naturally right around the beginning of movie rentals as a whole. The company dominated the 80s and 90s, and became culturally ubiquitous. Of course, it wasn't always widely known for good reasons. Things like lacking supplies of new releases, annoying late fees, and Blockbuster's tendency to put surrounding independent video stores out of business by undercutting their prices, all became infamously associated with the brand.
When Netflix arrived near the tail end of the 90s and introduced the then-revolutionary concept of a DVD rental subscription service by mail that customers would use via the internet, Blockbuster didn't just give up and go away either. They did their best to operate a competing online rental service, and also somehow keep their brick and mortar stores afloat. By 2013 though, the end had arrived. All remaining corporately-owned stores were closed, and the by mail service was shut down. Since then, a small number of franchisees have attempted to valiantly hang on, but according to Anchorage Daily News, two Blockbusters are about to close in Alaska, leaving only one store left in the U.S., located in Bend, Oregon.
It's a bit surprising to see Alaska - one of the few states to survive the 2013 mass liquidation with multiple stores intact - finally opt to get out of the Blockbuster business. In 2013, Alaska still had a whopping 13 stores statewide, that number dropped to nine by 2016, and now it's the end of the line for the brand. Alan Payne - owner of the soon to close Alaska stores - says that the pair of Blockbusters are still currently profitable, but those profits are declining at such a rapid clip that it doesn't make sense to keep them in operation past the expiration of their current lease agreements on August 1.
In a recent comedic stunt, HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver donated a range of Russell Crowe memorabilia items it purchased to the Blockbuster store in Anchorage, including the actor's used jockstrap from the filming of Gladiator. While it's obviously not at the top of their priority list right now, those who work at the store are now unsure where these items will end up. For her part, Bend location general manager Sandi Harding is shocked that her store ended up being the last one in the U.S. Despite the common complaints mentioned above, whenever more Blockbuster stores close, it's liable to cause an emotional reaction from those who grew up "making it a Blockbuster night." Video stores had their problems, but they remain a nostalgic cultural touchstone for many people, and it's sad to see them continue the march toward total extinction.
Source: Anchorage Daily News