Once upon a time, it seemed there were Blockbuster stores everywhere. But thanks to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, the amount of store locations is now down to 12—significantly fewer than at its peak of more than 9,000 in 2004.
Of those 12, seven are in one state—Alaska—and apparently they’re quite busy. Owner Alan Payne, who also owns one store in Texas, says just customers keep coming back.
“If you went in there on a Friday night you’d be shocked at the number of people,” he told the Washington Post. According to Payne, more than 50 percent of Blockbuster’s revenue is from a six-hour period on Friday nights.
The eight stores owned by Payne employ about 80 people. Through “managed downscaling,” he’s been able to keep the stores profiting without cuts to salaries. To make it all work, Payne simply pays a licensing fee to use the Blockbuster name and logo.
And profits aren’t coming from movies alone. Payne says 20 percent of sales from his stores are actually rentals of TV shows. Binge watching is in regardless of where where you live.
So what is it about Alaska that keeps people wanting to watch movies like it’s 1990? Well, for one thing, the internet is expensive. When you’re being charged by the gigabyte, as they are in Alaska, the cost of a movie rental from a store is a much better deal. On top of that, high-quality internet isn’t easy to get in rural Alaska. Alaskans could end up paying hundreds of dollars per month in internet bills, Payne says, if they chose to stream instead of rent.
The climate in Alaska may also play a role in Blockbuster’s popularity in the state. During the cold, dark winters, those in the community sometimes just want to see a friendly face.
“I feel like a lot of the customers just want to come in and feel like they’re someone special,” said Kevin Daymude, the manager of a Blockbuster Video outlet in Anchorage, Alaska. “They love the customer service, they love the interaction.”
Time will tell if these locations can stick around if technology improves, giving Alaskans cheaper and faster internet, but for now, this little slice of nostalgia is sticking around.