Last Sonoma County Blockbuster to close doors

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As Lexi Cruz rang up a steady stream of customers at the Blockbuster store in Rohnert Park on Wednesday afternoon, she gave them the same news she had learned that morning: "We'll be closed by January."

In a move signaling the end of an era in the home entertainment business, the movie rental retailer Blockbuster will close its remaining stores and end its DVD-by-mail service.

Dish Network Corp., which owns Blockbuster LLC, said on Wednesday that it will end its retail operations and shutter the mail-order unit by January, closing down the last 300 company-owned stores in the United States, along with its distribution centers.

Franchised and licensed stores will stay open.

"I think it's a shame, really," said Susie Morris, 48, who rented videos at the Rohnert Park store several times a month. She said other video services, like Redbox, which rents DVDs from machines at low prices, often didn't offer the movies she was seeking.

But former customers of the Santa Rosa Blockbuster on Fulton Road, which completed a liquidation sale last month, were less concerned about the closure. Many said they had moved on to using services like Netflix or the Redbox in the nearby Raley's years ago.

"You just do it online; it's so much easier," said Scott Edwards, 55, who shops regularly at Raley's and was smoking a cigarette outside the vacant Blockbuster on Wednesday.

Like Edwards, many consumers that once got in the car and drove to the store to rent a movie now prefer to access entertainment through streaming services such as Netflix or video-on-demand products from cable and satellite operators. That migration has contributed to Blockbuster's slow demise.

Founded in 1985, Blockbuster had close to 10,000 stores at its peak. It put smaller retailers out of business and gobbled up bigger competitors. In 1994, Viacom acquired Blockbuster and later spun it off in 2004. Dish bought the chain out of bankruptcy in 2011 with ambitions to turn it into a Netflix competitor.

As recently as two years ago, there were still 1,700 Blockbuster stores.

Now, the Rohnert Park store is the last in Sonoma County to offer rentals.

Stores on Mendocino Avenue in Santa Rosa and in Petaluma closed last year. A Blockbuster in the city of Sonoma remains open until Sunday, when a liquidation sale begins, but it quit renting movies on Sept. 7, said store manager Casey Stansill. Petaluma, Santa Rosa and Napa stores all closed on Oct. 25, he said.

Rohnert Park's Blockbuster will stop renting videos and begin selling off its inventory Saturday.

Many customers had come to rely on the staff of eight for video recommendations, Cruz said.

"We're bummed out. We loved to come here instead of use Redbox," said Shawna McKnight, 25, there with Chris Soldavini, 30.

"They know us by heart here," Soldavini said, adding that one employee had turned the couple on to "The Walking Dead," now one of their favorite television series.

"Now we have to go back to Redbox," McKnight added with a sigh.

They're not alone.

Stansill, manager of the Sonoma Blockbuster, remembers calling his wife from work when he learned the store — the last brick-and-mortar video rental shop in town — would be closing.

"By the time I got home," he said, "We already had Netflix and Redbox."

- The Los Angeles Times contributed to this story.

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