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Blockbuster: beyond the grave

Locally owned movie-rental store likely the last Blockbuster standing -

Ryan Sparks has the looks of a movie star, but he actually works at a movie store — specifically, likely the last Blockbuster on this planet, located right off Highway 26 in Sandy.

When the Blockbuster franchise filed for bankruptcy in 2010, Andy and Linda Anderson purchased the royalty rights to the store, which Sparks now manages. The classic blue and yellow motif of the franchise presides over the store, as does the original sign and merchandise.

Despite the obvious appeal to movie buffs, the store draws many new and regular customers alike, not because of the celebrity of the brand, but the atmosphere of the store itself.

“What really makes this Blockbuster worth coming to is the fact that we are a vital part of Sandy’s small-town community,” Sparks said. “We have regulars who come in here every week asking, ‘What movie should I watch this evening, Ryan?’ The people who come in here are more like family than customers.”

This is a stark contrast to the automaton-like feel of technology-driven movie streaming services such as Netflix and Redbox. The algorithm-based suggestions are often on par with customer desires, but lack actual human feeling.

The Blockbuster fosters its family-like feel, as opposed to the more cut-and-dried customer service provided at other movie rental stores, in part because there are so few of them left. The official Blockbuster chain filed for bankruptcy in 2010, after Netflix and Redbox became immensely popular.

“You just don’t get the same experience when you walk up to a Redbox,” said Sparks. “At this store, our regulars will want to talk to us about the movies they watch and tell us what they thought.”

Some Sandy-area residents live in fairly rural areas and do not have the ability to stream movies on the internet even if they wanted to. They depend upon the brick-and-mortar movie stores in the area, along with the family atmosphere they provide.

Even Hollywood itself has become nostalgic for the not-so-long-ago days of movie rentals. The cast of the hit television show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” stopped by to take photos with the Blockbuster sign in the back of the store. The cast members were on their way to a writing retreat at Mt. Hood but took the time to stop by to salute the stalwart movie shop.

Tourists drive into the parking lot and launch themselves into the store with excitement, unable to believe that the old movie store business still exists, let alone in a small town in Oregon. The store is set up like a typical Blockbuster, with meticulous organization and multitudes of movies available for rent.

Brick-and-mortar triumph

Blockbuster provides many advantages that the typical streaming service does not, including movies being available in the Blockbuster store the same day they are released on DVD, an invaluable service to insatiable movie fans in the Sandy area.

Unlike Netflix and Redbox, Blockbuster also stocks an extensive array of older movies for those whose cinematic taste leans vintage and/or obscure. For example, the comedy classic “Airplane” cannot be found on Netflix. The Blockbuster in Sandy, however, has multiple copies available.

There are the typical movie category sections, such as comedy, drama, horror and more. The intrepid customer can also rent video games and television series.

The New Release wall stretches the entire length of the store and is always well-stocked with the latest and greatest, as well as some lingering top sellers from the recent past. This provides much fodder for locals who love film.

“We are honest with our customers — if we don’t like a movie, we will tell them that,” Sparks said. “And they appreciate it, and that makes them trust our opinion. So you get people who come in weekly, asking us for recommendations.”

At its peak, Blockbuster had more than 9,000 locations across the United States, with around 60,000 employees. That has dwindled to one store and a handful of employees in a small mountain town in Oregon.

The Blockbuster in Sandy is possibly the last remaining Blockbuster in the state of Oregon, the United States and the world. If you want to be part of history, it’s worth a visit.