Bend, Oregon, is a sleepy bedroom town on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains in the Deschutes River Valley. A self-proclaimed outdoor playground, this town of slightly over 105,000 people caters to nature lovers, outdoor adventurers, the foodie crowd, and artistic souls.
But I wasn’t there to float down the Deschutes River or climb the extinct volcano that looms over this city. I was on a pilgrimage with my friend Crystal to find nostalgia, to discover the last remaining store that played such a big role in my childhood during the 1980s.
I was on a quest to visit the world’s last remaining Blockbuster video store. Between the support of the locals and the bustling tourism in Bend, the last remaining Blockbuster has managed to stay open and successful, even through the challenging COVID pandemic. Like me, thousands of people flock to Bend to stop at this once-thriving franchise for a quick journey back to their childhood memories.
Just walking into the store, located at 211 Northeast Revere Avenue in Bend, the memories of rushing to the Blockbuster in my hometown to snatch up the newest release on Friday nights washed over me. The smell of candy and DVD cases, combined with the signature navy and yellow logo of Blockbuster, sparked my senses, and in an instant, I was 14 again and searching for a copy of Lost Boys.
While Bend might be famous for this unique icon, it offers more than just nostalgia and history. It is home to singular museums, award-winning cuisine, state parks and natural areas, and shopping galore.
So, yes, this town is home to the last Blockbuster in the world, but it offers more than just a stroll down memory lane.
The Last Blockbuster
At 10 a.m. one sunny July morning, Crystal and I pulled up to meet store manager Sandi Harding before the inevitable crowds descended when the store opened around 10:30. Sandi, along with her mother, was unpacking inventory and packing up boxes to send out to people who shop the now-burgeoning online store.
“This is all of our backstock, and we do all of our online orders ourselves. We just had a huge shipment,” said Sandi. “We probably get five or six orders a day, so we do decent.”
While the Blockbuster in Bend still acts as a true video rental store, the majority of the business today comes from the sale of merchandise, like T-shirts, sweatshirts, mugs, and more. Still, without the support of the local community, the world’s last Blockbuster may have gone the way of the dodo when COVID restrictions hit.
However, when Bend got its first Blockbuster, those woes were non-existent. Ken and Debbie Tisher moved to Bend in September 1990 and opened the very first Pacific Video Store on the south end of Bend. Two years later, they opened a second location and then a third, renting out movie titles and classics on VHS.
Ten years later, in June of 2000, the Tishers entered into a partnership with Debbie’s parents, Larry and Berniece Doan, to become a Blockbuster franchise.
“I came to work for Ken and Debbie in 2000, and we opened up another Blockbuster location on the westside of Bend,” Sandi said. “My husband had worked for Blockbuster for a while when we were first married, so videos had always been a part of our family. And once I got in here, I really loved it.”
However, in 2010, corporate at Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy after the video giant dropped from more than 9,094 stores nationwide to 1,700. In 2011, Dish Network bought the Blockbuster brand for $320 million, saving it from bankruptcy, but even that didn’t save the franchise. Dish closed even more stores, and by January 2014, the final Blockbuster Corporate location shuttered its doors. Only a few franchise locations remained around the world, and the one in Bend soon became the only Blockbuster left besides one other store in Perth, Australia.
“We had a friendly rivalry for a while,” said Sandi. “In March, the Perth store called up and said they were closing. A reporter from Australia called and said, ‘They’re closing the one in Perth, you’re going to be the last one in the world,’ and we were like, ‘Are you kidding?’”
A new Netflix documentary released earlier this year, called The Last Blockbuster, brought even more interest in the form of visitors, mail, and online orders. Almost overnight, the Bend store was the focus of global fascination, and visitors began making pilgrimages to the site.
Bend’s Blockbuster looks and feels like the Blockbusters of old, but with added merchandise that helps keep the profits rolling in. In addition, special displays include Russell Crowe memorabilia donated by talk show host John Oliver when Oliver thought an Alaska Blockbuster store was the last one. When the Alaska store closed, that memorabilia found a new home in Bend. And Bend found a new tourist attraction.
Visiting The Last Blockbuster
On any given day, the Bend Blockbuster store is filled with curious tourists and locals alike. The store still rents out videos, and the merchandise and selfies keep the doors open. But for Sandi, the store represents so much more than just profit.
“People will come in all the time to share their memories. I had one gal come in one time who was crying. She said, ‘You just don’t know what this means to me.’ Her dad had just passed away. Her parents were divorced when she was young, and when she was with her dad, that was the thing that they did. They went to Blockbuster,” Sandi said.
“It was a beautiful story, and made me realize I’m helping someone. I hear stories every day from people who said Blockbuster was their escape from a toxic childhood or that their child didn’t speak very well, so watching movies was something that helped them learn to talk. I think we forget about all those personal things that were going on with people’s lives. We look for our entertainment to distract us, and so we forget sometimes how much this place meant to people.”
The store is open at 10:30 a.m. every day, and visitors are welcome. The online store also carries Blockbuster merchandise, like the famous “Be Kind! Rewind!” slogan on hats and T-shirts — so even if you can’t visit, you can take home a small piece of history.
Pro Tip: The crowds were already lined up at the door before 10:30 a.m. when I visited, so be prepared to either wait for one of the limited parking spaces, or time your visit for later in the day.
My friend Crystal and I journeyed from Dallas, Texas, specifically to visit this last Blockbuster after Crystal had seen the Netflix documentary, but we extended our visit to Bend by a few days to explore this natural area.
We took a 2-hour drive to Crater Lake National Park, home to the deepest lake in the U.S.A. — and one of the most pristine lakes on Earth. Formed by a massive volcanic eruption 7,700 years ago atop the Cascade Mountain Range, this lake attracts more than 750,000 people each year, mostly between July and mid-September.
The next day, we explored closer to Bend, visiting the High Desert Museum and its stunning displays and exhibits that highlight the high desert magic of Central Oregon. We ventured to the stark and unforgiving ancient lava flows of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument to hike through acres of glittering obsidian, and we chased waterfalls at places like the Three Sisters Wilderness and the stunningly gorgeous Tumalo Falls.
We savored the famous Oregon coffee at The Looney Bean, with its expansive and tree-filled backyard area overlooking the river, and tested our wallets by shopping at the Old Mill District and sipping cold Belgian beer at Monkless Belgian Ales.
To relax, we returned to our rooms at The Campfire Hotel, a fun, newly-renovated motel in the center of town that is designed more like a summer camp for adults than a typical hotel. With pool parties and s’mores cookouts, this 100-room boutique hotel and motor lodge offers up live music, a seasonal heated pool, a year-round hot tub, fire pits, and more.
So, even if your true intention of visiting Bend was to pay homage to the nostalgia of The Last Blockbuster, you’ll find plenty of other things to keep you in this hopping little community.