The Last Blockbuster

For me, it was the smell. An amalgamation of Milk Duds, buttery popcorn, and hard-shell plastic would rush through my nose the moment I opened the glass door. It was the smell of nostalgia long before I was old enough to be nostalgic. It reminded me that movies were comfort, and comfort was home.

In light of the recent release of The Last Blockbuster (2020) on Prime Video, I figured I would revisit a post I wrote on my days working at this obsolete wonder and the weekend I spent in Bend, Oregon with my wife, visiting…


the last Blockbuster.

Back when Blockbuster was just a left turn out of your neighborhood, renting a movie was a priceless, tangible experience. You could walk around the New Release wall with your date, gather all the yellow and blue DVD boxes you could carry, choose two, and then run into your friends at the checkout line. The experience made the rentable movie more remarkable as it took a journey to find it, purchase it, transport it, watch it at home (rewind it pre-’99), and then transport it back into the drop box to avoid a late fee.

During the summer and winter breaks of 1999 to 2001, I was a Customer Service Representative (CSR), Assistant Manager, and Manager at four different Blockbuster Video stores around the Littleton, Colorado area. During the second half of 1999 (The Year It All Started), new release titles were being shipped 50% VHS and 50% DVD. The infamous rewind machines started to collect dust in the back room while customers would always say, “I guess I should buy a DVD player then.”

The card membership process took 15 minutes and required three pieces of identification, landline calls to people who were four days late on their return were standard procedure, and inventory checks with scan guns occurred from 11pm to 2am once a month.

These were good days – days of innocence and entertainment that you earned.

Obviously, accessing entertainment online from and in the comfort of your own home will continue to be our future, and I am just as much a part of it as most American movie consumers. However, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and many others simply take the “go” out of moviegoer, and with that – an experience.

I miss it, but I’m lucky to have a wife who supports my nerdy movie-watching/writing passions. For my 40th birthday, she took me to Bend, Oregon where the only Blockbuster Video in the nation resided. I opened the glass door, and… well, read the first sentence of this blog. At the time, the three remaining stores in Australia closed down, leaving Mr. Bend the last store in the world. (AP New Story)

As friends, family, and students still heckle me for making this trip, I’d say it was one of the best vacations of my life.

Owner, Sandi Harding, isn’t going anywhere. She is maintaining not only the only Blockbuster trademarked movie rental store in the world, she is also sustaining pure nostalgic joy for geeks like myself.

The yellow and blue-garbed employees were congenial and well aware they were going to blab about the good ole days more than check out a movie. Registering for my Blockbuster card took 30 seconds, and it was more a memento than a membership, and I was just fine with that. Sandi can no longer go to corporate in Houston to import Blockbuster signage, marquee listings, or even the paper linings that go in the DVD boxes, so she goes to an independent manufacturer. It does the job.

My wife and I purchased a bunch of bumper stickers, candy, and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, and we rented the sweet, dependable spiritual rom-com, Michael, which she hadn’t seen yet. We watched it at the hotel and returned it in the drop box the next day. It’ll be another 890 miles to do this all over again, but as I sit on this couch with nothing intriguing on Netflix, I think it would be worth it.

Movies are comfort, and comfort is home, but the experience of renting a movie at Blockbuster will remain invaluable to me.

I’m just grateful I have an endearing story to tell my future grandchildren, even though they will probably roll their eyes and ask me to move while they flip through the Netflix menu.

28 thoughts on “The Last Blockbuster

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  1. Oh god.. Blockbuster. I remember turning 18 and RUNNING to my nearest one to get a membership card! haha.
    Your comment about the smell of Milk Duds – obviously means nothing to me as I’m British (we just had the smell of popcorn and Maltesers), but did make me smile as Milk Duds are my FAVE ever American chocs. Sorry – ‘candy’ :0)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! That’s a great memory (and refreshing coming from someone from the #1 place on my bucket list). Haven’t heard of Maltesers, but they sound like Whoopers. The movie rental store community is so missed, especially today when things are becoming more safe and “normal.” I appreciate the response. Great site, btw! Love the multi-reviews!


  2. Great to discover your blog. Thanks for visiting with B&S About Moves.

    And I remember when BB came along and blew out Sound Warehouse. Now we have no video or vinyl (CD) stores. Sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

          1. Yes. And I always err to the VHS of any film. Give me the original VHS to any reissue imprint, any day.

            Such good times, with my multiple membership cards. The little, out-of-the-way pre and post-BB guys, that was the stuff of dreams. And I miss the ol’ cut-out-bins of those stores. We lament those stores often, in our reviews of the more obscure titles we review, here, on how we got our copy of that “tape” that made our day/week.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I look forward to reading more. I just miss the smell of the plastic, the community, the recs from the employees, and finding that eccentric indie film. I remember when Swingers was a hip hit, and I was all about dialogue and cool male talk. It brought me to Diner and then Kicking and Screaming (Baumbach). I have all three on tape still. I can’t give them away.

              Liked by 1 person

            2. Yeah. You got it bad, very bad! Good films all, by the way! Those Miramax ’90s of driving out to the out-of-way six-plex to see things like Kicking and Screaming, good times.

              Thanks for finding us and reading more of our reviews. Yikes, over 5,500 posts since 2018-ish (Sam, with his wife Becca, the “B” in B&S, started this as a podcast in 2016). Your favorites — and new discoveries — are surely to be had.

              Liked by 1 person

    1. Much appreciated, and thank you for reading! Yes, for nerdos like me, this is big news, and now that it is officially the ONLY operating Blockbuster in the world, it’s even more special. I’m sure I’ll be back for another rental…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It is terribly sad. I live in a very rural area. We didn’t have Blockbusters. I believe the ones near me were called Reel Video, but same idea.They are now just sitting empty.


        1. And, that was the funny thing – in Denver, our independent video stores lost business to Blockbuster Video, and we were upset. But then, after several years of dependability (and a job), I grew to love Blockbuster. You’re right, though – the experience is gone either way.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Great story man… I would do it in a heartbeat. I hope they can financially afford to remain open. Netflix takes some of the fun out of it.


    1. You da man. You obviously have a nostalgic string in your heart too. The good news is that tourism and steady local clientele are keeping the Bend store booming! If you’re ever in that direction, it’s worth the trip there 🙂 Netflix is also easy to turn off and quit on a movie. I don’t know – when I actually had to go to a store to rent a movie to bring home, I appreciated the movie more, even when it was a dud.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Like you said it feels like you earned the movie…good or not.
        I’m all about nostalgia. We have too much of everything these days…but time.

        That is great to hear about them…I sure will.

        I have driven 300 miles to go to one of the original A&W restaurants… where they had the orange fireplace…something different and fun.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh gosh, I LOVE THIS ONE! I ran into Randy Gradishar at the Blockbuster on Hampden one day after leaving the Bronco game early because of lousy play or shitty weather… or possibly both. But I had been looking at the Ring of Fame at the stadium seeing #53’s name and thinking about how much I loved Randy Gradishar. And not 2 hours later, I’m running into the retired Randy at Blockbuster!!! It was a ‘hand of God’ moment. ☺

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love this story! Remember the one on Orchard and University? Mike Shanahan was a regular. I remember Kristi Yamaguchi and Scott Hamilton accidentally knocking over a display while playing around the New Release wall. And ex Colorado Rockies outfielder, Ellis Burks, was the kindest customer. His wife would stack up late fees, he’d apologize, and then offer a tip! Good ole Randy Gradishar and Blockbuster. The stars aligned!


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