Coronavirus challenges last Blockbuster in the world

Store manager says they won't go down without a fight

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As small businesses grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, one last remaining national pastime refuses to surrender quietly.

For the last Blockbuster in the world, the virus is just another obstacle.

“We're going to be here for a while, we've dealt with these kinds of challenges, not the coronavirus, but we've dealt with all kinds of things throughout this whole thing,” Sandi Harding, the last Blockbuster general manager told FOX Business. “Everybody knows our story, and we don't give up easy. So we're going to definitely go down with a fight like every other small business in America.”

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As a powerhouse through the 1990s and early 2000s, at the height of its success, there were 9,000 bustling Blockbuster VHS and DVD rental stores worldwide raking in billions in annual revenue.

iStock Blockbuster Video store

However, Netflix, which has nearly 183 million paid subscribers that first received mail-ordered DVD rentals and added streaming video later, and automated video kiosk Redbox, which has more than 41,500 self-service locations, transformed the video rental industry by causing stores to close throughout the nation. Now, the only remaining Blockbuster store is a privately owned franchise in Bend, Oregon.

Before the pandemic struck, nostalgia along with Bend's charm as one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States made for a fun family activity.

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"I think I counted, it was like over 6,000 accounts the first year after we became the last one," Harding said. "A lot of those were people that were coming in town and tourists that were just here for the night and set up an account or rented a movie just for the thrill of doing that again. But a lot of them are actual customers living here in Bend. They come in week after week."

Now things look very different. Only a fraction of foot traffic is coming through the door.

“We're getting about half the business that we would typically do in a day,” Harding said. “And obviously, we're not going to be able to sustain that for very long before it's going to start to affect, you know, whether or not we can remain profitable and viable.”

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On March 23, Gov. Kate Brown implemented stiff social distancing measures to prevent the spread. However, certain businesses are permitted to stay open if they can maintain proper social distancing rules.

After shutting down for just a week, Blockbuster was able to keep its doors open by slowly morphing into a new operation.

“Everybody is feeling the same pressure of doing the right thing,” she said. “I'd rather go slow and have small amounts of people adhere … Then opening up the floodgates and letting, you know, all the tourists in here and everybody going crazy again and nobody being safe.”

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Aside from placing one-way arrows in aisles and only allowing 10 people into the store at a time, the entire team is supplied with masks and gloves. In addition, movies are sanitized every time they go in or out of the door.

For now, at least, Harding said fewer people is safer for staff and customers. But the fine line between safety and profitability comes at a price.

"It's so stressful to try to decide what the right thing to do is," she said. "You've got the profitability of your business. You want to keep your doors open because you need customers and you need money to pay your wages. But at the same time, you want to keep everybody safe and you can't afford to have your staff to get sick or your customers to get sick."

On the bright side, Harding said all 15 staff members' jobs were preserved.

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Going forward, Harding said she doesn't foresee this "magically" going away and she is doing her part to be socially responsible and advantageous.

"I just ordered in some floormats, you know, because right now we have blue tape down," she said. "I mean, I love these kids that work for me and our customers and the whole reason we're here is because, you know, these people enjoy coming to our store and I don't want it to not be safe."

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