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Bend Blockbuster booming after Netflix documentary goes viral

Milt McConnell, of Bend, takes a picture of Mark Style, of Philadelphia, and Ilene Style, of Bend, in front of the Bend Blockbuster on Monday. Dean Guernsey/The Bulletin

The Blockbuster video rental store in Bend was already popular when it became the last location on Earth. It drew visitors from across the United States and as far as Taiwan and London.

But in the past two weeks, the store off NE Third Street has been flooded with even more visitors and online orders after Netflix boosted its visibility. It was featured in “The Last Blockbuster,” a documentary about the store that started trending in the top 10 most watched movies on Netflix.

People have sent flowers and called the store just to say thank you for staying open. Those visiting the store wear masks and keep their distance due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but are not deterred from finding a movie to rent.

In the backroom, staff members have been busy packaging thousands of online orders for Blockbuster T-shirts, hats and face masks, which are all made by Bend businesses.

“It’s a little bit crazy, but it’s a very good thing,” said Bend Blockbuster Manager Sandi Harding. “We’ll take a little crazy if it means keeping the store open.”

Harding is the star of the movie, which peaked as high as the No. 4 movie in the United States since it appeared on Netflix March 15.

People have stopped Harding in the grocery store to take pictures with her and one boy visited the Bend Blockbuster and was in awe of seeing Harding, she said.

“It’s good for the store. It’s good for the community,” Harding said. “And I can learn to live with my newfound fame as long as it doesn’t mess with what we are doing every day.”

The two Bend filmmakers behind the documentary, Taylor Morden and Zeke Kamm, had no idea if the store would stay open when they started filming in 2017. The movie focuses on Harding’s day-to-day effort to run the store, which became the last in the world when the Blockbuster in Perth, Australia, closed in March 2019.

Morden said he’s heard from people who call Harding a national treasure and say the store must remain open at all costs. He’s pleased to know the film’s attention on Netflix may be what keeps the store open.

“For us to have some small part in helping the store stay open is amazing,” Morden said. “Not a lot of documentaries actually accomplish the goal of their story.”

The Bend Blockbuster has no plans to close. It has a steady lease agreement with the building’s property owner. The owners of the local Blockbuster, Ken and Debbie Tisher, have leased the property since 1992, when it was a Pacific Video store. The store was franchised in 2000 and became a Blockbuster.

In its heyday, Blockbuster had 9,000 stores. The documentary reminds people about those years when Blockbuster was the leader in home entertainment.

Morden said many viewers enjoy the irony of watching the documentary on Netflix, the streaming service credited with changing the way people watch movies at home and leading to the demise of Blockbuster.

The film has also brought viewers to tears, especially those who have fond memories of working at a Blockbuster in their childhood, Morden said.

“The best part is the people who message us and say they worked at Blockbuster and were crying watching the movie,” Morden said. “It brought back so many great memories.”

Morden and Kamm are still amazed their movie has gone viral on Netflix, staying in the top 10 for two weeks. Kamm said he’s heard from old high school classmates and a childhood crush, who all enjoyed the film.

“It’s affected people emotionally,” Kamm said. “I think it reminded people that we had this thing that was such an important part of our lives. Hopefully it reminds people to appreciate the things they have now.”

Both filmmakers feel connected with the Bend Blockbuster, even though they are done filming their movie. They contact Harding regularly to find out if she needs more DVDs of their movies or movie posters to sell at the store.

“I’m sure I’ll be involved with the folks at the last Blockbuster until they ever close,” Morden said. “There is no way we are not going to be connected.”