Blockbuster’s space at 109 N. Harlem is listed for lease, raising concerns about whether Forest Park will keep its remaining video-rental store and whether the tri-village area of Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park will keep its last Blockbuster.

“We’re not 100 percent sure that this store is closing. We’re just in lease negotiations,” a manager told the Review last week, when asked about the Sept. 1 date of availability on the listing sheet. The manager, who asked not to be named, said an announcement would be made if it becomes certain that this store will close.

From Blockbuster’s corporate headquarters in Dallas, only the following statement is available:

“Blockbuster does not comment on any individual store closings. We have previously stated that we are in the process of recapitalizing the company and reducing the number of stores in the U.S. is part of that effort.”

The corporate statement came from a spokeswoman at an outside firm. Blockbuster’s in-house press officer, who did talk with the Review’s sister paper Wednesday Journal late last year when stores in Oak Park and Berwyn were closing, has since been let go.

Those two stores, one Lake Street and the other on Roosevelt Road, closed in December. They were in the first wave of mass closings for the once-dominant nationwide group of bricks-and-mortar stores that have steadily been losing customers to Netflix, an online subscription service, and to Redbox, the self-serve kiosks near supermarkets and drugstores.

Blockbuster in Forest Park – the chain store that survived Circle Video, the village’s indie source for movie rentals – was spared last year, and there’s a slight possibility it may be again.

What could save it?

Last month, The Wall Street Journal reported that Blockbuster Inc. was trying to line up a $150 million debtor-in-possession loan – a kind of financing that, during bankruptcy, keeps companies on life support. The corporation isn’t in bankruptcy, but did say in regulatory filings last fall that bankruptcy is a possibility. Its debt is reported at more than $900 million.

Because elsewhere, as in Forest Park, the company leases shop space, creditors stand to recover little if they force Blockbuster to liquidate. An industry analyst told Associated Press last month that a bankruptcy filing would allow Blockbuster to renegotiate its rents, which could put it back in the black.

What’s the pitch to lease the space?

The Review has learned that the 5,500-square-foot store space at Harlem near Franklin was listed for lease a few weeks ago by a commercial property broker in River Forest. Larry Locascio of Champion Commercial Realty confirmed that the store, which is part of a 26,730-square-foot site, is on the market. Locascio provided the Review with a copy of the listing.

The site is being marketed both as divisible and as an option for a restaurant, with ample parking – 52 spaces – and drive-through potential.

“This was a Sizzler before Blockbuster came in,” says Locascio, referring to the location’s family-steakhouse history. “Before that, it was a Rustler.”

What would be left?

Should this Blockbuster store close, the nearest Blockbuster stores would be in Cicero, Elmwood Park, Berwyn and LaGrange.

Forest Park has three Redbox kiosks, strategically placed here as in communities across the country, where a lot of foot traffic is likely: inside Ultra Foods, on Roosevelt Road; inside Wal-Mart, on Des Plaines at Roosevelt; and outside Walgreens, on Roosevelt.

“The advent of these Redboxes really was a death knell,” Elmwood Park resident Patrick Cerceo, who had owned and run Circle Video on Madison, told one of the Review’s sister papers last year. “They took away what little market the video stores had,” Cerceo said, referring to the self-serve kiosks’ $1 fee.

Twenty-five years ago, there were about a dozen video stores in the area that includes Forest Park and the neighboring villages of Oak Park and River Forest, according to an article in the March 20, 1985 issue of Oak Leaves newspaper. Today, in addition to Forest Park’s Blockbuster, three independents remain, all in Oak Park: two on Madison Street and one on Roosevelt Road.

Circle Video, the indie in Forest Park, opened in 1981. It had started out with one paid employee and just 80 movies. By March 2006, when the store closed, its movie collection had grown to 50,000 titles.

Blockbuster’s restructuring

In an 8-K filing last September with the Securities and Exchange Commission – a form required of publicly traded companies before significant events – Blockbuster announced it was closing as many as 960 stores before the end of 2010.

“We’re not just about brick and mortar stores anymore,” says a page now on the Blockbuster site. “Customers can use our by-mail subscription service, grab a video at a local kiosk or download a movie directly to their computer or entertainment device.”

As part of this restructuring, according to another company announcement, Blockbuster will have 10,000 kiosks in neighborhoods throughout the U.S. by the end of this summer. The Review asked the spokeswoman for the press firm representing Blockbuster if there are plans for Blockbuster kiosks in ZIP code 60130. She said she would find out, but had not replied by our press deadline.

Marty Stempniak, a reporter for Wednesday Journal, contributed to this story.

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