Kenai repeated a scene common in the Lower 48 about six years ago — customers raiding the DVDs at a closing Blockbuster location.
The Kenai store, located in the Safeway parking lot on the Kenai Spur Highway, began selling off its movie collection Wednesday in preparation to close. People milled through the aisles, their arms full of DVDs, some collecting seasons of TV shows and others scrounging for a favorite movie. While Kevin Daymude stood in one of the aisles, a woman proudly marched up and displayed a receipt: she’d spent more than $400 on movies in one purchase.
Daymude, the general manager of all the Blockbuster stores in Alaska, said she was a good friend of the staff and has boxes of the DVDs at home, like a private collection.
The store has been struggling for a few years and the managers did everything they could to save it Daymude said. Most of the employees will be transferred to the Soldotna store, which will stay open, he said.
“They’re doing well,” Daymude said. “The Soldotna store won’t be closing anytime soon.”
The situation was baffling, he said. The two stores had very similar demographic bases and the communities have similar Internet access, so Netflix has not affected the market too severely, Daymude said. Although the Safeway stores in both towns rent movies as well, they mostly rent new releases, while Blockbuster has more selection as well as games.
However, the Soldotna store has consistently performed better than the Kenai store over the years the two have been open. The managers have tried to determine what the factors are affecting the Kenai store but finally decided to close it, he said. What stock the store does not sell will be shipped to Anchorage or the other stores and sold there, he said.
“We’ll be here for about a month,” he said.
The news of the store closing brought out a crowd, though. Wednesday kept the staff busy — they even had to open 20 minutes early because people were there, eager to get in, Daymude said somewhat ruefully.
Alaska is one of the only states with active Blockbuster stores remaining. The corporation, which once employed more than 60,000 people in 9,000 stores worldwide, declared bankruptcy in 2010 due to competition from online streaming services like Netflix and on-demand services like Redbox. Blockbuster’s assets were purchased by Dish Network.
Today, 51 stores remain, each owned by a franchise that has licensed the name “Blockbuster Video.” Nine of those stores are in Alaska, owned by Canadian company Border Entertainment — eight, after the Kenai location closes.
Video stores have widely been on the decline nationwide since the premier of streaming services and standalone rental services. They are projected to continue to lose their market share as consumers keep opting for online media, according to a December 2015 analysis from research firm IBIS World.
Alaska is somewhat of an outlier because of the limitations on web service in the state.
Alaska remains among the nation’s 10 worst states for Internet access because of high prices, according to a January 2015 Federal Communications Commission report. Approximately 38 percent of Alaska’s total population has no Internet access. Approximately 17 percent of residents in urban areas of the state do not have access, while 81 percent of residents in rural areas have no access.
Barb’s Video on Main Street in Homer, an independent video rental store with 19,000 titles, will rent one new movie and one old movie or two old movies for $3 per day. Kordell Jones, the manager of Barb’s Videos, said curating the content and knowing the customers are important to the business’s success.
“Being in a small town doesn’t hurt,” Jones said. “We pick and choose our new releases very carefully. TV is big for us. (We try to) keep that very current for people so they don’t have to pay for five or six different subscription plans.”
Though the store did see a slight slowdown, he said the clientele has a natural variation — some customers come and go with the new TV seasons, and others are regulars. Still others who may be without Internet access come in because they can usually spare $3 for a few movies, he said.
Having store staff that knows the clientele personally makes it a better experience so they can suggest what a person might like, Jones said.
“You don’t want to tell the Jehovah’s Witness lovely woman who wants a new TV show to watch Game of Thrones,” Jones said. “We’re all movie buffs around here. The social factor is a really important thing, I’d say.”
Daymude said the rise of technology has taken something from the culture of video stores: the social interaction.
“It’s the social aspect of it,” Daymude said. “When you can come in to a video store, talk about the movie with the staff, see people … you don’t get that with Netflix.”
Reach Elizabeth Earl at firstname.lastname@example.org.