Elle Madsen has her photo taken with her son Brighton Madsen, 7, outside the last Blockbuster. Growing up in Bend, Elle Madsen visited the store. Now a South Carolina resident, she was eager to bring her son. “When we pulled up, the kids had no idea what the store was,” Madsen said. Isaac Wasserman for The Washington Post

BEND, Ore. — My family used to go to Blockbuster every Friday. Walking to the store on 19th Street and First Avenue in Manhattan, we’d wander through the aisles of DVDs, negotiating what to rent for our weekly ritual of making pizzas and watching movies, and I’d try to sweet-talk my way into a Nerds Rope or a box of watermelon Sour Patch Kids.

We cycled through countless discs before my parents signed up for Netflix’s DVD service. Our local store closed in 2010 – the year Blockbuster corporate filed for bankruptcy protection – and less than a decade later, almost all of Blockbuster’s 9,000 stores had followed suit.

These days, there’s only one Blockbuster left on Earth. It’s in Bend, Ore., about 820 miles from my home in Los Angeles.

But I’ve traveled farther for stupider reasons.

So I took a trip to Bend with my partner, Reanna (who loves DVDs even more than I do). Our journey there involved an extensive delay that stretched into 13 hours of travel – via cab, bus, plane and rental car – but it all felt worth it when we caught a glimpse of the glowing yellow Blockbuster sign in the distance.



Most of the tourism in Bend revolves around the city’s outdoor wonders, attracting people who love hiking, skiing, canoeing and exploring the local terrain.

But the city has always been filled with movie lovers, according to Ken Tisher, who owns the Blockbuster on Revere Avenue with his wife, Debbie.

“For those who don’t know, Bend is a huge movie town,” Ken said in the 2020 documentary “The Last Blockbuster.”

The Tishers opened their first video rental store Pacific Video in the early 1990s. With business booming, they launched two more locations, but when Blockbuster moved into town they had one option for survival: They made the store on Revere Ave into a Blockbuster franchise in 2000.

As a chain, Blockbuster peaked in 2004, when there were 9,000 locations worldwide. The company has shut down thousands of locations over the years, making the Bend Blockbuster the last Blockbuster in the United States in 2018 (after two stores in Alaska closed), and the only one in the world by April 2019 (after the second-to-last Blockbuster in a suburb of Perth, Australia, shut down).

Sandi Harding, the general manager of the Bend Blockbuster, has been working there since 2004. She watched the franchise’s decline from the front lines, giving countless interviews and figuring out how to keep the store stocked and relevant.


Since there’s no corporate supplier left, Harding buys candy and snacks in bulk from Costco and has figured out how to print and laminate new membership cards. Most of the DVD vendors that they have worked with have closed over the years, and the ones that are still open have minimum orders that are far too big for her store.

“I can’t afford to purchase movies through them, so I’m back to buying 100% of everything at Walmart and Target,” Harding told me.

The staff’s DIY efforts pay off: Harding estimates that they still get 500 to 1,000 customers over the course of a weekend.

“It’s all tourism driven now, where before it was all rental driven,” Harding said. “So it’s totally a different experience.”


We made it to Bend a little before 7:30 p.m., exhausted but relieved that we didn’t miss our chance to indulge in some retro movie magic. It was a sleepy Sunday evening, so the store was nearly empty.


“The winter months used to be our bread and butter, like, that’s when we were the busiest: when people couldn’t go outside or travel,” Harding said. “Now it’s the opposite, the winter is quiet. So this time of year we get lots of projects done. We all take vacations, and we do things because the summer is when we’re just crazy busy.”

Most of the store is straight out of the early 2000s: The walls are lined with DVDs and VHS tapes to purchase or rent; the location’s original triangular checkout counter has endured the test of time; and the staffers still wear blue and yellow shirts (though they’re not forced to don the retro polos).

“The ticket tee that we have out there is the T-shirt we’ve always had here at the store for our employees,” Harding said, referring to the ticket stub design on the shirts that her employees wear. “But on the back of it used to say ‘your ticket to the movies,’ and then it went to ‘last one in America,’ and now it’s ‘last one on the planet.’”

The rentals are still reasonably priced: New releases cost $3.99 and older DVDs are just 99 cents. And these days, nobody complains about late fees.

“This is something that is so important from our past that we didn’t realize we were going to miss until it was gone,” said Sandi Harding, the general manager of the last Blockbuster. “It makes me feel good that someone else can experience what I experience every single day.” Isaac Wasserman for The Washington Post

“Now everybody is like, ‘Aw man, we miss it,’ which is always funny,” Harding said. “You’d be surprised how many people insist on paying their late fees now to support the store.”

Unsurprisingly, rentals and late fees aren’t enough to keep the store afloat. Harding estimates that 80% of its business comes from selling merchandise, including T-shirts, hoodies, sweatpants, postcards, keychains and popcorn-scented candles.


Most of that merch is made by local artisans since Harding wants to support her fellow Oregonians.

“We’re proud of the fact that we’re able to source as much as we can here in town,” she said. “If we can’t have them made in Bend, we buy them through another small business.”

“People come in and see [the merch] and then I remember why we’ve got it because people smell the candle or they see the T-shirt and they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, this so brings me back,’” she added.


As I browsed the aisles of Blockbuster, it felt like I stepped into a memory. The space was still warm and comforting, the snack and drink options were abundant, and the staff clearly had great taste.

There are a few things in the store that bring visitors back to 2024: Some of Russell Crowe’s costumes – passed along from the closed Anchorage store – sit next to a wall of Blockbuster memorabilia and letters that have been sent to the store. A modest living room occupies one corner, reminiscent of the Airbnb experience the store offered in 2020. The checkout counter also has a guest book, so visitors can sign their names and leave sentimental notes.


“We have almost 30 of those little guest books signed,” Harding said. “I’m actually looking forward to the day when I can sit down and just go through them all.”

The store has welcomed visitors from all six habitable continents, and Harding can rattle off plenty of states and countries that people have traveled from. She tries to be as accommodating as possible for those who are passing through town and want the full rental experience.

“I opened up an account the other day for somebody from Seattle, and she was like, ‘We’re on our way home, but we had to stop and rent a movie. I’m going to mail it back to you,’” Harding said. “Sometimes people just do it and walk around outside and put it back in the drop box, just because they want to have that experience of renting the movie and returning it.”

Reanna and I had one night in Bend at an Airbnb with a DVD player, so we took our time perusing the shelves. Instead of doom scrolling through a streaming app on my TV, or trusting an algorithm to pick something out, I looked at a wall of the staff’s Valentine’s Day picks, feeling a kinship with Santana, who recommended the 2018 remake of “A Star is Born,” and Aidan, whose picks included “Moonlight” and “Knocked Up.”

That sense of connection is really what we’re looking for when we visit an old school video store.

“Video stores and movie theaters have always kind of felt like my church,” Jared Rasic, a local critic, said in “The Last Blockbuster” documentary. “They’ve always felt like the place where I go to feel the most like the calm, normal human being that I’ve always wanted to be.”

Reanna and I eventually settled on renting “Gentlemen Broncos,” a sci-fi comedy directed by the man who made “Napoleon Dynamite,” and “Vanilla Sky,” a thriller starring Tom Cruise. After grabbing some merch, a locally brewed Blockbuster beer and a respectable assortment of candy and microwave popcorn, we were ready to check out.

We also got two membership cards along with our wares; small yellow and blue reminders that sit in our wallets and remind us that we might get the chance to go back one day.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.