CLOSING ATTRACTION: Eagle River Blockbuster going out of business
(Updated Thursday, June 29, 2017)
One of the last surviving Blockbuster Video locations has rented its last movie.
Workers on Wednesday, June 28 said the Eagle River location in the Carrs mall in downtown Eagle River is going out of business. Wednesday was the last day customers can rent movies. Starting at noon Thursday, everything in the store — from DVDs and Blu-Rays to posters, Pocky sticks and soda — went on sale.
“We’re selling everything,” said store manager Heather Glidden Wednesday.
On Thursday, a line of about 50 people stood outside the store as workers prepared to open the doors. When they did, customers came flooding in in search of cheap deals on the thousands of movies, TV shows and games on the shelves.
“Welcome to the mad house,” Glidden said as the customers poured in.
Blockbuster Alaska general manager Kevin Daymude said the best stuff isn’t likely to stay on the shelves long; in fact, people have already been calling to ask about certain titles.
“If they want movies, they better be here tomorrow,” said Daymude, who was in the process of posting a large “STORE CLOSING” sign near the door Wednesday afternoon.
When the big crowd showed up Thursday, Daymude said he was pleasantly surprised. The rainy weather, he said, always helps drive traffic to the store.
The store will sell off its merchandise through July, at which point there will be just six of the iconic video stores left in the state.
Daymude has been with Blockbuster for 26 years. He’s seen the company go from a global power that at one point had more than 9,000 stores to a pop culture relic hanging on with just a handful of independently operated stores. Along with the six remaining Alaska stores (one each in Wasilla, Soldotna, North Pole and Fairbanks and two in Anchorage), Daymude said he thinks there’s “two or maybe three” Blockbusters left in Oregon, one in Texas, and — maybe — another in New York. The remaining Alaska locations are owned by Texas-based Border Entertainment.
Blockbuster was founded in 1985 and had its heyday in the 1990s, when it was the unquestioned king of movie rentals in the United States. But the company fell on hard times when online services rose to prominence at the turn of the century. The company went bankrupt in 2010, and later sold off its stores.
Daymude said the Alaska stores are unique and have been able to hold on due to good customer service. He said many people like being able to talk to a real person before picking out a movie or television show.
“I think they like that they can talk to someone face to face,” he said.
He said he thinks that personal touch has kept people coming back to the store.
“I think that’s the reason we’ve survived so long,” he said.
He also pointed out the stores often have titles that can’t be found online. Some Disney movies, for example, foreign films or older movies are nearly impossible to find elsewhere.
“A lot of these movies you can’t get anywhere,” he said.
Born and raised in Alaska, Daymude said he’s been around long enough to see nearly the entire story arc of the Blockbuster run. He can remember when Friday nights would see crowds of teens or people waiting to pick up a pizza flock to the familiar, brightly lit storefronts.
“There’s been some really, really, really good times,” he said.
But he also acknowledges that times change, and with more people getting their entertainment online, something had to give.
“Technology is a fickle beast,” he said.
Business at the Eagle River location has been struggling for several years, said Glidden, who has managed the store for three years.
“I’ve been out here for three years and this store’s always been a slower store,” she said.
The top rentals tend to be television shows, she said, new releases and anime.
Although the Eagle River store is closing, the Alaska operations aren’t — which means people can’t skip out on their late fees.
“They are still responsible to return their movies on time,” Glidden said.
Daymude said the half-dozen employees in Eagle River will be offered transfers to other stores. Glidden said she’s been talking about moving out of state for a while, and will likely leave Alaska after the store closes for good next month. She said she’ll miss the customers, many of whom she got to know on a first-name basis.
“I like the social aspect of it,” she said.
The aisles in the store were nearly empty Wednesday, with a couple customers trickling in from outside. Most hadn’t yet heard the store was closing — though none seemed too surprised.
One frequent customer who said he’ll be sad to see the store go is Tyler Cobb, a 10-year-old who lives in a nearby neighborhood. Cobb said he likes walking to the store to buy previously viewed DVDs, which can usually be purchased for $2.99.
“It’s an awesome deal,” he said.
Cobb said he thinks the store closure will hurt people who might not be able to stream movies online.
“A lot of people don’t have Internet,” he said.
Cobb said he’s a big movie buff whose tastes tend toward lighter fare. On Wednesday, he left the store with “Daddy’s Home,” comedy starring Will Farrell and Mark Wahlberg. He’s going to miss running up to the corner video store to pick out something to watch.
“When I saw that sign I was like, ‘no!’” he said.
Cobb said he planned to return Thursday to try and stock up on movies before they’re gone.
Daymude said it’s interactions like that that make the store closing tough. Over the years, he said customers and employees have developed a relationship over their shared love of movies, TV shows and cartoons.
“We’ve kinda made this our family,” he said. “That’s the stuff you miss.”
The Eagle River Blockbuster (11431 Business Boulevard) will be open noon to 8 p.m. Thursday and noon to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.