Whidbey Island's last video store saved in cliffhanger

As of Tuesday, Blockbuster is under new ownership. The Oak Harbor location is one of about 600 stores that will remain open.  - Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times
As of Tuesday, Blockbuster is under new ownership. The Oak Harbor location is one of about 600 stores that will remain open.
— image credit: Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times

Blockbuster in Oak Harbor, the last video rental store in town, is one of about 600 stores across the country that will not close in the wake of the chain’s acquisition by a major satellite TV provider.

Earlier this month, Dish Network Corp was announced as the highest bidder in a bankruptcy court auction to acquire the former king of the home-video business and “substantially all” of its assets for about $228 million.

The bid, valued at about $320 million, includes more than 1,700 stores. The deal closed Tuesday, April 26.

“With its more than 1,700 store locations, a highly recognizable brand and multiple methods of delivery, Blockbuster will complement our existing video offerings while presenting cross-marketing and service extension opportunities for Dish Network,” said Tom Cullen, a Dish executive vice president in a news release.

However, it appears most of the stores will close. According to U.S. Bankruptcy Court documents, only about 600 property owners have agreed to lease agreements with Dish. That includes the store in Oak Harbor, which court documents say is owned by the Maylor Family LLC.

Store employees declined to comment about the acquisition, saying that Blockbuster corporate policy did not allow them to communicate with the media. Also, attempts to reach a representative of the Maylor Family were unsuccessful.

Opening its first store in 1985, Blockbuster rose to the top of the home-video rental industry. At its peak, it had more than 5,000 stores around the world and revenues topped $4 billion in 2009, according to the company’s website. It once had two stores in Oak Harbor.

The company’s downfall is largely attributed to the rise of competitors such as Netflix, which  revolutionized the way people rent videos by allowing them to instantly download films over the internet, and Redbox, which dispenses movies for $1 from machines. Together,  they wiped out all the video rental stores on Whidbey Island.

While business leaders such as Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce Director Jill Johnson are happy the store, and its employees, will stay, others say they aren’t shedding any tears over the bankruptcy demise of the former video-rental goliath.

“It’s hard to be sad about seeing them go down in flames,” said David Svien, the former longtime manager of the now-defunct Videoville in Coupeville.

Blockbuster revolutionized the movie industry with its large inventory and prices. The price of their success often came at the failure of smaller mom and pop-owned stores. According to Svien, there were about 10 video stores in Oak Harbor when Blockbuster came to town with two big stores, one of which recently closed.

“They took down every one of them,” he said.

However, Svien said in some ways he’s happy that the island’s last video store will remain open. Although he called it the “anti-christ” of the business, it’s a relic of what was once a golden age of the home-video rental market, a time when video stores were a place where people came to hang out.

But he wonders just how long they will remain and what changes they may undergo. Marc Lumpkin, a Dish spokesman, said he could not comment on what may be in store for Blockbuster over the long term but that they are looking forward to revitalizing the company and its name.

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