Jason Eccles, of Glacier Sign and Lighting, removes a Blockbuster Video sign from the rear of the former Northern Lights Boulevard location in Midtown Anchorage, which closed in late 2016. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)
Jason Eccles, of Glacier Sign and Lighting, removes a Blockbuster Video sign from the rear of the former Northern Lights Boulevard location in Midtown Anchorage, which closed in late 2016. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)

For families across the United States, driving to the local Blockbuster Video was a Friday night ritual. The kids fought over which movies to rent, parents had to pay off the late fees and all succumbed to the popcorn and candy buckets at the register.

After a long decline, the video rental business declared bankruptcy and its new parent company – Dish Network – began closing all remaining retail locations in 2013. Netflix had won, and Blockbuster was dead. Or so Americans thought.

At least 10 known Blockbuster stores across the country have managed to stay afloat in the digital age. And the largest cluster of Blockbuster stores is in Alaska, where dark, long winters and expensive internet have helped maintain a core group of loyal customers.

“A lot of them are still quite busy,” Alan Payne, a Blockbuster licensee-owner, said in an interview with The Washington Post. “If you went in there on a Friday night you’d be shocked at the number of people.”

Payne owns eight of the last surviving Blockbuster stores in the country, including seven in Alaska and one in Texas, employing about 80 people in total. He first purchased Blockbuster franchises in 2000, just before the industry as a whole began to decline. At one point his Austin-based company, Border Entertainment, owned 41 stores across the country.

After the 2008 recession hit, and after Netflix began to emerge as a major threat, Payne and his team of managers said, “OK, we’re going to do this as long as it makes sense.”

Business indeed took a tremendous hit, and sales have been on a continual decline. In 2013, 40,000 people were coming through Payne’s stores, and that number has now dropped to about 10,000. Just this week, one of Payne’s last two Blockbusters in Texas closed. He didn’t think his stores would last past 2016, but through a “managed downscaling” Payne has managed to keep them profiting, without making…