World's last Blockbuster booming amid heat wave

·5 min read

It's 2004, family movie night is on the calendar and you're on your way home from work. Just stop by Blockbuster on the way home, right? With over 9,000 locations around the country, it'd be hard to not drive by one.

In case the recent heat waves have gotten you deliriously time-tripping, consider this your snap back to reality. It's not 2004 and there certainly aren't 9,000 Blockbuster franchises left. It's 2021, there's just one Blockbuster store left, and this nightmarish heat wave certainly isn't done yet.

The last-standing store is located in Bend, Oregon, and this week, don't you dare touch the door handle, manager Sandi Harding said.

"It's nuts -- 111 degrees I think is supposed to be our high," Harding told AccuWeather National Reporter Bill Wadell on Tuesday. "We had to open up our outside doors because they were too hot for people to touch, and so that's pretty unusual for us."

(AccuWeather/Bill Wadell)

But that won't keep people away, she said.

Since the closure of the franchise in Morley, Western Australia, Harding's store in Bend has been the sole survivor of the once-beloved rental chain.

"It was totally out of the blue, we were not expecting it whatsoever," she said. "It was just quite an adventure." Interestingly, weather played a role in Harding learning the news that her store would be the last one standing, she recalled.

Harding went on to explain that she was driving in a bad winter storm at the time when a reporter from Australia called her. She was unable to take the call to find out her store would be the last one open because there were snow berms everywhere.

Harding said that the staff from the second-to-last location was encouraging in a phone call on the store's last day in business and wished the Bend staff well, hoping the Oregon location would "stay open forever."

Sandi Harding shows Bill Wadell around the air-conditioned Blockbuster, the last franchise remaining open. (AccuWeather/Bill Wadell)

"We are it, we are the very last one. It's been quite a whirlwind adventure for us," she said. "Memorial Day weekend, we had a record weekend, and I'm only expecting with the COVID restrictions being lifted that Fourth of July is just going to be crazy."

"It will be comparable to the breaking heat records that we have going on right now," Harding added. "I think our records with merchandise sales will be right there too."

That record-breaking heat continued to scorch the state of Oregon, with all new high marks set on Tuesday. Multiple locations in the Beaver State broke daily records by more than 10 degrees Fahrenheit, including Hermiston's 118 F reading, which fell just one degree shy of Oregon's all-time statewide record set in 1898.

For Amber Hall, a Dallas resident visiting her friends in Oregon, the brutal heat wave was a huge disappointment.

"It's miserable! I'm dripping with sweat," she told Wadell. "The car AC wasn't working on the two-and-a-half-hour trip here and we pulled into the Taco Bell and they said, 'Welcome to Taco Bell, home to no AC, I'm dripping with sweat, how can we serve you today?'"

Hall said she was hoping for a break from the Texas heat by traveling north, but heard of the record-breaking heat shortly before leaving.

But Hall, like Bend resident Kiley Stone, wasn't about to let the sweltering conditions keep she and her friends from visiting the historic Blockbuster location.

Amber Hall drove up to Oregon from Dallas and was disappointed by the intense heat that she was hoping to escape from. (AccuWeather/Bill Wadell)

Stone has been a lifelong Oregonian but just moved to the Bend area in the past year.

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"In the town I grew up in, there was [a Blockbuster] there right in the middle of town and I remember growing up going there all the time, it was one of my favorite thing to do with my family," she said. "This is awesome, everyone wants to hangout and watch movies with their friends, especially in weather like this when you just want to stay inside with the AC."

Comparing the Oregon conditions to those of a desert, Stone said she has been particularly annoyed by the dryness and timing of the heat, which she said she would normally expect in late July or August.

Oregon resident Kiley Stone said the current heat wave has been nothing like she's ever experienced before. (AccuWeather/Bill Wadell)

However, she said there was one perk that came to mind.

"One of the great things about" the Bend area, she said, "is that we have all the lakes and rivers that we can go to" for a spot to cool off.

But a note of caution on that idea: Data from the Oregon Health Authority also shows that residents should be careful when cooling down in those lakes and rivers. According to a Tuesday release, emergency room and urgent care visits for non-fatal drownings have spiked in recent days, along with visits for exposure to cyanobacteria, a harmful algae bloom that can make people sick when they swim in affected water.

One of the truly safe places, Harding suggested, is inside her store, the last Blockbuster in the world.

"I don't think we're missing out on people because we have air conditioning," she said. "People are coming and visiting and still taking pictures, we have a beautiful tree in the front yard and so people can stand in the shade to take a picture in front of the store."

Reporting by Bill Wadell.

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