The nostalgia for Blockbuster video stores never really goes away. There was something great about visiting the brick-and-mortar location, checking out the staff recommendations, and having to choose a physical movie to take home with you. Today, if you don’t like the movie you’re streaming, you can just switch to any other. There was more of a risk involved in your choice when you had to pick up a physical movie. Maybe that risk is part of why people get so nostalgic for the Friday night ritual that was a visit to the Blockbuster video store. Despite the chain really being over, there remains a last store in Bend, Oregon and a documentary about how they’re surviving. Now, we have Free Blockbuster with 16 locations across the United States.
What is a Free Blockbuster? You may have noticed the free mini-libraries that have popped up in neighborhoods around the country. They have a “Take a book, leave a book” policy. These little free libraries are in boxes on sidewalks and are maintained by individuals.
This same thinking has been applied to the Free Blockbuster movement, which started in February 2019. At the time, a former Blockbuster video employee in California decided that the LA Times newspaper dispensers could use new life. Now, two years later, there are 16 locations. A new one just opened in Detroit, Michigan. The box was started by indie filmmaker Jon Toscano. They have their own Instagram account where they post delightful updates about happenings at the box.
Much like with the free libraries, the Blockbuster video boxes ask you to take a movie and leave one behind for the next person.
The filmmaker talked to the Detroit News about starting the box, which he had to thoroughly clean and apply branding to. Joe Toscano is hopeful that the box will be an opportunity for more indie filmmakers to get word out about their local productions. He said that so far, it’s been a community builder. “People actually hang around the box and discuss movies with each other. It’s like the old video store days.”
Capturing some of the vibe of Blockbuster video stores of the past, and adding to the community experience, the Free Blockbuster box in Detroit updates their Instagram with “staff picks”. Recently, they recommended the Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen classic Red Dawn. Adding to the nostalgia, their top pick was available on VHS. The box also includes DVDs and other physical formats.
People who want to start their own box for Blockbuster videos are free to do so. The founder of the Los Angeles box is selling stencils, t-shirts, and complete kits on his website to help others begin their own locations.
Meanwhile, in Bend, Oregon, The Last Blockbuster is still surviving. The location isn’t in a major city and doesn’t have the backing of being a corporate franchise location to hold it up. So how is it surviving the pandemic when so many major brick-and-mortar chains are closing down? The publicity they’ve gained online has given them a lot of ground to stand on. On top of this, they’ve been open to other revenue streams for their business. They rented out of their location on AirBNB and t-shirt sales are going well for them. While these have been strong factors, they also contribute a lot of their continued success to the nostalgia people hold for Blockbuster video.