Get the latest from TODAY

Sign up for our newsletter
/ Source: TODAY
By Scott Stump

There is now only one place left on Earth where you can make it a Blockbuster night.

There were 9,000 locations worldwide when Sandi Harding started working at the Blockbuster in Bend, Oregon, 15 years ago. Now she is the general manager of the last one standing.

Harding received a phone call from an Australian radio station on Monday informing her that a Blockbuster in Perth, Australia, was closing, making the Bend store the last holdout of the once-ubiquitous video rental chain. The Perth store stopped renting videos on Thursday and will close for good on March 31.

"It caught me completely out of the blue,'' Harding told TODAY. "We were pretty surprised. We were excited for us and sad for them, of course. It's one of those win-lose situations."

The last Blockbuster location on the planet is in Bend, Oregon, after the closure of a store in Australia. Sandi Harding

The Bend location has about 4,000 customers with paid memberships. It also has become a tourist destination since its designation as the last store in America in July following the closing of a location in Alaska.

"Before we became the last one, it definitely was more just loyal local customers,'' Harding said. "In July, when we became the one store left, everyone started coming here and visiting from all over the world and there was more nostalgia to it."

The store, which opened as Pacific Video in 1992 and became a Blockbuster in 2000, rents movies on DVD and Blu-ray as well as video games.

The Bend location has the classic Blockbuster layout filled with candy, popcorn and movies. Sandi Harding

Blockbuster was a staple of movie fans in the 1980s and '90s, but ultimately declared bankruptcy in 2010 due to streaming video competitors like Netflix and Amazon. The last corporate-owned stores were closed in 2014, leaving only stores run by franchise owners.

The Bend store, which is owned by Ken and Debbie Tisher, also has a licensing agreement with Dish Network, which bought Blockbuster for $228 million in 2011 after it declared bankruptcy.

That allows the store to print its own Blockbuster T-shirts, hats, magnets and other memorabilia using locally owned companies, which has become an important part of its revenue.

"That's part of the nostalgia angle,'' Harding said. "One thing everybody says is that it looks the same and smells the same as the Blockbuster they remember growing up."

The store also has introduced the younger generations to the days of perusing a Blockbuster trying to find a good movie on a Friday night.

The local Bend community has more than 4,000 customers paying for memberships at Blockbuster. Sandi Harding

"You can definitely tell the tourists,'' Harding said. "They'll say to their children, 'This is what we used to do. You actually pick up the box, read the back, hold it in your hand.'

"It's a fun experience. I think it's something you miss flipping through everything on TV on the couch."

The location also has movie memorabilia like Russell Crowe's robe and shorts from "Cinderella Man" and Denzel Washington's director's chair for "American Gangster," which were donated to them by comedian John Oliver. The "Last Week Tonight" host had originally bought them for a gag on his HBO show and given them to a location in Anchorage, Alaska, that ultimately closed.

Blockbuster also has gotten strong support from the community, including a local brewery making a beer in its honor in August.

The Bend location is going to have to amend its memorabilia now that it's the last one in the world. Sandi Harding

The store has so far survived in the era of binge-watching television on streaming services. Customers have been steadily coming in to rent "Game of Thrones" as they catch up before the HBO hit returns for its final season next month, Harding said.

Blockbuster also has movies that aren't on any of the streaming platforms.

"When Gene Wilder passed away, we had movies like 'Young Frankenstein' and 'Willy Wonka' that you couldn't find on Netflix or Amazon,'' she said. "I think that's our niche, too. People know that Blockbuster's gonna have it."

Harding also often goes to local big-box retailers like Walmart and Target to buy DVDs of new releases for the store to keep current.

There certainly could come a day when people no longer own DVD players and use streaming only, but the Blockbuster in Bend is doing its best to keep the franchise on solid ground.

"Everything is changing,'' Harding said. "Of course, I watch shows (on streaming services) and my husband is a binge-watcher of TV shows, but 20 years from now, Netflix might not be here any more. Everything is evolving and changing all the time."