Just hearing the name Blockbuster teleports most people back to the 1990’s, but not in Alaska. Their remaining Blockbuster Video was thriving until one suspicious man and number of events ultimately led to the store’s premature closure.
Bye Bye, Blockbuster
While it isn’t exactly rare for people to come into this ancient structure and take a gander at a life gone by, when someone does it every day it causes unease amongst the staff and owner. One would never believe why this man was doing what he was doing and how it impacted the store and ultimately led to its closing.
One Of The Last Blockbuster Videos
In the mid-1980’s Blockbuster came onto the scene and sparked a sensation that would last over twenty years. Lines would stretch across the store as people waited to check out the latest movies and video games. It wasn’t just their selections that made them great, but also their vibe. They took advantage of their popularity and soon introduced expensive late fees and binding membership agreements. As of today, there are a few left and one of the last four Blockbuster Videos is in Anchorage, Alaska.
Blockbuster Videos started closing across the country as the internet introduced streaming sites like Netflix. Despite that, Alaska’s Blockbusters have been going strong well into the 2010’s. What makes it all the more ironic is that is was the internet in Alaska that garnered Blockbuster Videos almost a decade more of life.
Expensive And Slow Internet
While most of the world is quickly surfing the web and paying little for it, things are a bit different up north. Alaska has a reputation of being wild and off the grid. Internet connections there are usually expensive and slow. Due to the lag, having a Netflix account isn’t going to do you much good up there. For that reason alone, Blockbuster has thrived.
A Business Owner’s Fear
While he knew his community needed him for video renting purposes, Alan Payne, the owner of Alaska’s Blockbuster was a bit nervous as the 2000’s saw thousands of stores close throughout the rest of the United States. Despite having a great turn out, he knew that it was just a matter of time before he was affected by the massive blow out. Technology is always advancing and Alaska’s internet wouldn’t be subpar forever.
Alaska Stores Begin To Close
While it was delayed for years, eventually Blockbuster stores in Alaska suffered the same fate as the mainland store. This year alone saw several stores close in Alaska. First Wasilla was hit, then the North Pole and Soldotna stores took their overdue plunge. Then Anchorage’s second store closed.
Blockbuster Is Not Making A Comeback
During an interview, Payne spoke upfront about his concerns and acceptance. “It’s always kind of a kick in the pants every time we close a store. But it’s been going on for so long that the shock has worn off, frankly. This is not going to come back. We can’t string this out any longer without creating some financial problems.”
Illustion Of Success
Alan’s last running Blockbuster was one of the last in the country and thus brought in a number of tourists. They would too often park in front of the store and come inside for a picture. They would also look at all the videos with excitement. His store would sometimes look completely full, but sadly the shelves would always remain fully stocked. This could be very frustrating for any business owner.
Fed Up With Loiters
Alan and his staff became very fed up with the loiters. He posted up a passive aggressive message on the Blockbuster website. It read, “We see you out there taking selfies in front of our stores, show them to us!” Kelli Vey, a Blockbuster manager in Alaska said, “I wish they would come in and buy something,” she said. “All day long, I joke that I need to put a picture of somebody in the window to photobomb them.”
The sale continued to plummet, but the guest kept coming and coming for pictures. Alan Payne and Kevin Daymude, the general manager at most of Alaska’s Blockbuster stores would often have words with these loiters. That said, there was one loiter that nobody would get near and the man even remains a huge mystery today.
Man Of Mystery
Blockbuster employees knew their customers quite well. Anyone with a Blockbuster membership card was a regular and well known. Any new face was likely a loiter. There was one man that made every staff member take a second look. He was a constant and would usually lurk in the back area of the store. Nobody really knew what he’d be doing there and when asked he’d answer “Just looking.” in a quiet voice.
Keeping Their Distance
Normally Alan or Kevin would ask such a customer to leave the store. Business owners don’t usually like customers just standing in the aisles for hours at a time, especially if they leave empty-handed. It was his intimidating and stoic stance that prevented them from chasing him off. So long as he kept the peace and didn’t cause any trouble, they were okay with letting him be there.
Working Around Him
He became a like permanent fixture around the store. Employees would often wonder why he was there. He didn’t seem mentally ill, but perhaps he was. Others thought that maybe he was reliving his childhood. Blockbuster meant a lot to people at one point. Perhaps his life had taken some dark turns and he found a certain kind of peace inside the store.
Sadness In The Eyes
Something was very heartbreaking about the man’s face. Employees would see a sadness in his eyes. Pretty soon they would begin putting together the pieces of a long and somewhat sad puzzle. For instance, he was always in the drama section and always hovering over a select few movies. He would even take pictures of that particular aisle once in awhile.
The Talk Of The Store
Word of the man’s constant prowling around the store spread from the staff to the customers as many would notice this tall, sad man. He would alarm some customers and the Blockbuster would even lose some of its business. Alan and Kevin tried reasoning that times were changing and renting movies was a thing of the past, but when the few customers they had began to trickle away, they blamed this man.
Blockbuster Leaves Alaska
Pretty soon Alan’s Blockbuster was the last in Alaska and his business was starting to run very low. He found himself having to accept that video stores are just a thing of the past. The computer age and the age of streaming movies online had taken over completely. He’s stated that people just prefer to spend their Friday nights in very different ways now. People don’t get as much out of gathering around the television and watching a rented movie with some popcorn.
Some Customer Confusion
Some customers are left with few options. A lot of the customers were made up of seniors who only ever knew renting videos. They don’t know how to watch a movie online and if they did, they’d certainly miss the experience of actually going to the store and picking out the movie. Remember how fun it was looking through all the movie covers and choosing the one that seemed most interesting? It was like an adventure.
Kelly Vey, a long time Blockbuster manager stated that the news was tragic for their loyal clients. She followed it up by saying, “It’s kind of emotional. I’m getting some tears and getting lots of hugs.”John Oliver heard of the store’s struggle to stay afloat months back and sent them memorabilia from the Russell Crowe movie Cinderella man, which included a jockstrap worn by Crowe. Payne explained to John Oliver’s staff that the store probably wouldn’t be open much longer, but they said they wanted him to have the memorabilia.
Kevin Daymude and Kelli Vey left a joint statement announcing the closing, “We regret to inform our customers that Blockbuster Video will be closing both the College and Debarr stores starting July 16th. We will reopen for our inventory sale on Tuesday, July 17th at 12 noon and will run through the months of July and August. These are the last two Blockbuster stores in Alaska that survived and it is sad to say goodbye to our dedicated customers. We have thought of you as family for the past 28 years.”
The statement continued as, “Both Kelli Vey and I (Kevin Daymude) have been with the company since 1991 and have had great memories throughout our career. Thank you for sticking by us throughout all these years. I can’t tell you how much it means to us. We hope to see you at our stores during the closing, even if it’s just to say “Hello”. What a great time to build your media library and share some Blockbuster memories with us.”
Story Behind Strange Man
With the shelves being cleared and the store readying itself for its final breaths, one has to wonder what happened to the strange man. Someone had to break the news to him and the news was met with a very strange reaction. One brave staff member told him of the closing and the strange man just kind of broke down for a second before storming out of the store.
A Stunned Staff
While many expect the customers to be sad about the closing, they never would have expected that kind of reaction from the strange man. While once looked upon as dark, he appeared to be much more tender and emotional now. They didn’t fear him and one staff member would even get to the bottom of this man’s strange behavior.
The Truth Revealed
After a few days, just as the staff expected, the strange man was back in the same section. That’s when a store clerk named Matthew Wilder approached him. “I didn’t know what to expect.” He said. “I stood there for a minute looking at the movies and what ever had been on his mind just started pouring out of him. I was shocked.”
One Fateful Night
The man’s name was Henry Miller and one night he was on a quest to rent A Walk To Remember. As he grabbed the sole remaining copy, a young lady arrived disappointed that he had gotten to the movie before her. After chatting for a while in the video store, the two decided to watch it together. It was a very intimate moment for the young man. They agreed to meet there the following week to rent another movie together, but she never showed up.
Henry has shown up every day since with the hopes of bumping into the girl again, but she never did return. The staff was moved by his story. They gathered around on the Blockbuster floor and comforted Henry who was now in tears. They told him that it was time to move on and that she probably wasn’t good enough for him. He got up, brushed off his flannel and nobody ever saw him again.
Blockbuster Is Over
Today Blockbusters around the world are shadows of their former selves. Empty buildings that still sport the lively Blockbuster colors, but are empty of the Blockbuster life. The Alaska branch is currently selling all their stock and getting close to what the picture looks like below. Is this it for Blockbuster?
The Last Holdout
While Blockbuster Videos are all but dead and gone, there is still one Blockbuster holding on. The world’s last Blockbuster is located in Bend, Oregon. Sandi Harding, the general manager has credited her loyal customers as the reason for the store’s long-lasting success. She has been with Blockbuster for 14 years and she would have never imagined that she’d be managing the last Branch standing.
Never Saw This Coming
Sandi never imagined that she’d outlast the Alaska Blockbuster stores. As far as closing down, Sandi says that she has no plans of closing anytime soon. She says that she runs a tight operation. In the year 2000, there were over 9,000 Blockbusters in the United States. Successfully, she has managed to outlast them all.
Appreciates The Tourists
Unlike the owner of the Alaska branch, Sandi actually appreciates the tourist that come in. She realized that video stores are, for the most part, a thing of the past. It’s nice to see a mother come in with her daughter and see the young child react to a store full of movies. This is something that the newer generation has never seen before. For them, it is a sight to behold.
Video stores and the final Blockbuster don’t look to have a bright future. The mid-2000’s saw the rise of online streaming and Netflix. In the end, video stores tried holding onto their customers, but people accepted the future and latched on to the new. Blockbuster lost and videos are never coming back. So while the Bend, Oregon Blockbuster is stringing along, it will certainly meet its fate soon.