Alaska made comedy headlines this weekend. HBO host John Oliver offered to donate some unique items to a business in Anchorage.
The state may be the Last Frontier, but on Sunday night, Comedian John Oliver highlighted a different kind of status – the last holdout of Blockbuster Video.
“Despite the fact that Blockbuster filed for Bankruptcy in 2010, there are apparently four independently-owned franchises still operating in the United States, three of which are in Alaska,” Oliver explained to his audience.
Oliver goes on to explain these independently owned shops make good business sense. Data can be expensive and, for some Alaskans, it’s been cheaper to rent movies than to stream them.
But as the once-ubiquitous video stores have disappeared in the rest of the country, Alaska’s last remaining Blockbusters have become a different kind of attraction.
Vice News produced a video featuring Anchorage Blockbuster supervisor Dani Provence last year.
“I have people who come into the parking lot just to take pictures of the building,” Provence explained in the video, which Oliver highlighted in his segment.
“They’ll also be like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe you guys are still here,'” Provence said.
“What a fun, but potentially passive aggressive interaction that was,” Oliver joked. “‘Wow, I thought you has-been losers had been thrown into the trash heap of history, but you weren’t. Good for you. I’m off to stream literally anything I want. See you later punch line.”
And Oliver’s right — as the internet has gotten faster and more reliable in Alaska in recent years, more Alaskans have joined the streaming masses putting the old-fashioned movie rental business at risk.
So, how do you keep one of the last remaining rental relics open? There’s got to be a fun, film-inspired way, John Oliver said, to get customers through the doors.
“You know the way Planet Hollywood sucks you in with the chance to dine alongside the baseball mitt that out-acted Madonna in ‘A League of Their Own,'” Oliver joked.
But there’s no way for small, independently-owned stores to afford items like that. That’s where Oliver and his team come in. It turns out there was recently an auction of movie memorabilia used by the actor Russell Crowe.
“From the Gladiator chariot to this leather jock strap he wore in the film ‘Cinderella Man,’ which was expected to attract an absolutely ridiculous $500,” Oliver explained.
That jock strap ended up going to an anonymous bidder for $7,000. There was some speculation that Oliver was the one to bid on the item, but…
“The bad news is we didn’t do it. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. It wasn’t us. We didn’t buy it.” Oliver said.
After a few seconds of silence from the audience, Oliver cut back in. “We did, though. We absolutely did.”
So, what’s he going to do with it?
“To the manager of the only remaining Blockbuster in Anchorage, Alaska at 5600 Debarr Road, number five…” Oliver said to the camera, “All of this [stuff] is yours. Just call us in the next 48 hours and we will send it to you.”
“We’ve left messages with him on the phone to HBO, we’ve Facebooked him, we Tweeted,” Kevin Daymude said. “I don’t know what else we could do.”
Kevin Daymude is the general manager for the remaining Blockbusters in Alaska. He’s been working at the store since 1991.
Standing alongside aisles of DVDs inside the store on Debarr Road, Daymude said he’s seen a lot of change over the years.
“Of course we started with the wonderful VHS’s,” Daymude said, “and [I saw] how fast the DVDs took over those, so that was a huge change-around.”
Daymude said he has seen a drop in profit in recent years, but, some people really value that in-person experience.
“It’s kind of hard to sit there and ask a vending machine, ‘Is this is a good movie? What’s your recommendation?’ And that’s what they miss,” Daymude explained. “They miss the customer service end of it. And that’s why we’re still steady.”
And the media hype over the last remaining stores doesn’t hurt either. Daymude says they’ve sold T-shirts and sweatshirts and stickers.
So, Daymude said the more attention, the better. He welcomes John Oliver’s idea of showing off Russell Crowe movie memorabilia, with just an ounce of hesitation.
“It’s a great idea. I love it– it’s the whole jock strap thing I can’t get over, I’m sorry,” Daymude admitted.
But Daymude is willing to try if it means keeping Blockbusters’ lights on a little longer.