The Last of the Past

Isabella Athanasiou, Managing Editor

Just around the Bend, based in Oregon, lies the last location of an immensely iconic pastime. It is said that the ending for this franchise was somewhat inevitable, though it was still heartbreaking to hear the closure of so many establishments. The franchise in question, you may ask, is one of which in its prime was estimated to be an astounding 3 billion dollar company that dominated its opponents with ease. Now, as of 2019, there is one sole survivor of the prevalent takedowns, and it now holds the salient accolade of… 

the last Blockbuster.

The movie-rental industry started, and was in its ultimate prime within the 80’s and 90’s. It was during this time where VCRs were introduced and studios began to sell movies directly to consumers. Though the studios believed that the movies they were selling were worth high above the amount willing to be paid, buyers struggled with the ability to obtain the tapes because of these prices. This was when in the words of Blockbuster franchise owner Alan Payne “…some very ingenious entrepreneurs decided that, ‘Well, we’ll buy them and rent them’.” The studios were not happy about this, and deliberately sued the entrepreneurs in a case that made its way to the Supreme Court. In this unique case, the court ruled against the studios, and movie-rental stores became a gold mine for anyone who had the means to establish one. People were at the time no longer afraid of legal risks, but instead concentrated on making movie-store money.

Blockbuster was initially founded by a man by the name of David Cook, but the movie-rental industry was one in which he did not initially start in. Cook had previously owned a business that sold specific software services to oil and gas industries within the fine lines of Texas. He then saw the potential and the corollary benefits associated with the industry, bringing about the opening of the first Blockbuster in 1985. Cook made his establishment stand out, and he did this with a bigger selection, staying open until midnight and leaving the tapes on the shelves instead of having them behind the counter. Cook’s background on software is what also made Blockbuster so successful. Instead of using paper and pencils to log rentals, Cook used databases to make checking out videos more efficient.

Cook sold part of the business to a group of investors that included entrepreneur Wayne Huizenga, and it was later that same year that the company fell into Huizenga’s hands and embarked on a rapid expansion that wiped out any and all competition. According to Editors, with Huizenga in power, “By 1988, Blockbuster was America’s leading video chain, with some 400 stores. By the early 1990s, Blockbuster had launched its 1,000th store and expanded into the overseas market.” The recognizable Blockbuster franchise had become known internationally, distributing movies and delight to countless customers on a widespread scale.

The iconic blue and yellow became immensely popular, and memories were created within the establishments as movie nights were fueled with the excitement of heading to the local Blockbuster. Its pledge to uphold the needs of any genre-loving fanatic was one that indeed held up, one that held up even to the franchise’s inevitable downfall.

It is somewhat ironic how the Blockbuster franchise acquired its liquidity. Blockbuster either bought up or quickly squashed its competition in the form of mom and pop shops as Netflix presumably did with Blockbuster in the form of virtual enterprise. Though Netflix is not to completely blame for Blockbuster going out of business. The increasing development and advancement in technology did contribute to the downfall, with Netflix becoming competition to all movie-rental services, but this was not all to the story. 

With Netflix, the company would mail the movie right to you, but with Blockbuster you would actually have to go to the movie store. With the times changing, companies had to adapt to the changing conditions, but Blockbuster had a hard time keeping up. Late fees were a huge contributor to the decline of the franchise, in that the idea of late fees had become so associated with the name “Blockbuster” that the backlash on the franchise was primarily due to these fees. Blockbuster eventually started their own way of rental similar to how Netflix did it, where they would mail the movie right to you. This did increase revenue for a short period of time, but eventually their revenue continued to decrease. Blockbuster even did so much as to take away late fees to try to salvage the last of their business against new competitors, and in doing so cut their cash flow down to about a third and lost about 250 million dollars overnight in sales.

Poor management was also a leading factor in the end of Blockbuster. The elimination of the late fees and the mass amounts of revenue loss was at a time where a man by the name of John Antioco was running the company. In 2006, Reed Hastings, co-founder of Netflix made a statement regarding Blockbuster and that they were throwing everything except “the kitchen sink” to help grow the company and keep it alive. The following day John Antioco mailed an actual sink to the Netflix Headquarters. It was these very decisions that caught the attention of a man whose focus was to shake up good companies run by bad people, and this man’s name was Carl Icahn. Icahn is an activist investor who bought a significant amount of Blockbuster stock and made his way to the board of directors. He then got John Antioco fired, and tried to save the Blockbuster franchise.

Icahn introduced Blockbuster Express, DVDs by mail and Blockbuster on Demand. He hired Jim Keyes, a man who had turned around the 7-Eleven franchise to help introduce these new ways of streaming and after one year under Keyes, revenue doubled. Things were looking up for Blockbuster, but not even a month later Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy. Blockbuster had inherited about a billion dollars in debt, and therefore the glory days of the franchise came to an unfortunate end.

Now, as of 2019, there is one Blockbuster left in the world, located in Bend, Oregon. The last Blockbuster has received global recognition from a varying array of celebrities and corporations who have helped keep the Blockbuster running and financially stable. This last Blockbuster, owned by Ken and Debbie Fisher, wasn’t originally a Blockbuster. The original name “Pacific Video Store” was their franchise of video stores they had spread throughout Oregon. It wasn’t until they saw the potential in making their establishments correspond with the Blockbuster franchise that they decided to make the decision. The establishment now is run by Sandi Harding, who is known as the “Blockbuster mom” because she has employed almost every teenager in her hometown. The last Blockbuster functions as the rest of the Blockbusters had, with movie rentals still being their staple. Locals adore their sacred establishment and fuel its continuation. Sandi Harding even listed the location as an Airbnb for locals to stay the night and enjoy the comforting blue and yellow. This was a limited time opportunity, but for the three nights that the stay was available, the cost was $4 a night, just as movie rentals were at the Blockbuster. The last of the past is all we can hold on to, and this last Blockbuster is a piece of nostalgia that will never be forgotten.