Dust off the VCR: Free Video Lending Libraries Arrive in the Twin Cities | Siouxland Houses

By Richard Chin Star Tribune

Loan boxes called Free Blockbuster are sprouting up in the Twin Cities for people to share DVDs, VHS tapes and nostalgic movie nights.

MINNEAPOLIS – You can make it a Blockbuster night again.

Years after the once ubiquitous video rental stores were gone, you can browse and borrow DVD movies – and even old-fashioned video tapes – thanks to a popular movement called Free Blockbuster.

It basically works like Little Free Library, with freestanding boxes presented to the public by owners or businesses with physical media available for free. “Take a movie, leave a movie. Be nice, rewind!” that’s how the organization’s website, FreeblockBuster.org, puts it.

Since the summer, four sites (or franchises as the organization calls them) have been established in the Twin Cities.

“I see it as a collective art project,” said Brian Morrison, who came up with the idea.

Morrison, who lives in Los Angeles near a former Blockbuster, had a friend who was moving out and wanted to get rid of his tapes and DVDs. Morrison noticed that there were a lot of empty newspaper stands that had been abandoned when the free print publications went out of business.

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He came up with the idea of ​​turning old newspaper boxes into self-service movie sharing libraries. He created the first free Blockbuster outlet in Los Angeles in 2019. As the news spread, more free Blockbusters began to sprout up across the country.

Morrison turned the concept into a nonprofit, making the Free Blockbuster brand available to other franchise founders. He encourages attendees to save and recycle abandoned newspaper boxes, but said any type of container will work. For those interested in a turnkey option, Morrison sells recycled plastic newspaper boxes in Blue and Yellow Blockbuster free for around $ 200.

As of October, there were 92 free Blockbuster franchises, mostly in the United States, but one is also located in Edmonton, Alberta, and another near Sydney, Australia, according to the map on FreeBlockbuster.org.

That’s about 1% of the 9,000 video rental locations the Blockbuster chain had around the world before it went bankrupt in 2010. But Morrison said he’s happy his idea is catching on. He expects to see the 100th store by the end of the year, worn by other fans and collectors.

“I am impressed with the response,” he said.

Jimi Nguyen was the first free Blockbuster franchisee in Minnesota. He and his wife, Alison, are movie buffs and collectors of VHS and DVD movies.

“We’re the odd couple who watch a lot of movies,” he said.

As a child, Nguyen’s parents owned a mom-and-pop video rental store in Fresno, Calif., Before he was bankrupted by his powerful competitor, Blockbuster.

But Nguyen is still a fan of the Blockbuster channel. He and his wife recently made a pilgrimage to the “Last Blockbuster”, the remaining operational franchise, located in Bend, Oregon. In addition to renting movies, the store has also become a tourist attraction, gift shop, Airbnb rental, and the subject of a documentary film (available on Netflix, of course).

“It was a part of my childhood,” Nguyen said. “I still have a soft spot for Blockbuster.”

When Nguyen heard about the Free Blockbuster concept, he said “Damn, yeah”. Last summer, he got a blue newspaper box, filled it with tapes and DVDs from thrift stores and swap meets, and set it up outside his house in St. Louis Park.

Because it opened around July 4, it made sure the box contained “Independence Day” and “Born July 4”.

“I like to share what we have,” Nguyen said. “I think movies are a big part of knowing the world.”

Some of Nguyen’s friends and fellow Minnesota video collectors have followed suit and launched their own free Blockbusters, including Thomas Blade.

When Blade was a teenager, “physical media and video rental stores were my life,” he said. In August, the 33-year-old hosted a free-to-play blockbuster near his home in Burnsville.

“I jumped on the nostalgia train,” said Blade, who also has a VCR connected to a bulky, retro 200-pound CRT television. “It’s definitely a generational thing.”

Blade is stocking his free Blockbuster with vintage DVDs and Blu-ray discs – from “Frozen” to “Star Wars” – that he could have bought at yard sales for a quarter.

“Every week three or four new things are in there,” he said.

This summer, Paul Zenisek also set up a free blockbuster outside of his Minneapolis store, Heroic Goods and Games, which sells board games, vintage toys, comics, old video games, and movies. collection.

He filled it with hits from VHS movies from the 1980s and 1990s, like “ET”, the Michael Keaton “Batman” and Harrison Ford in “The Fugitive”, in addition to DVDs and Blu-rays.

At one point, the box contained Kevin Costner’s “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” in three formats at once: DVD, Blu-ray and VHS. To help recreate the vibe of old Blockbuster retail stores, Zenisek gave away Act II microwave popcorn at the opening of their free Blockbuster.

Twin Cities Free Blockbusters have started handing out printed flyers announcing “Three Metro Stations Open 24/7 to Serve You!”

In September, a fourth Free Blockbuster location was created by Joe Donlin outside his home in Plymouth. He said it was a great way to share the videos of Daniel Tiger, PAW Patrol and Angelina Ballerina that his kids have passed.

At Free Blockbuster, where VHS stands for Video Honor System, Zenisek said the concept of taking a movie, of letting a movie work.

“I thought it was funny. I didn’t think anyone would come,” he said, but it “gets a lot of traffic,” with people posing for selfies in addition to borrowing and checking out. make movies.

“We get full turnover [of movies] almost every week, “he said.” That people benefit from it every day amazes me. “

Zenisek believes that free DVDs and VHS tapes tap into a collector’s sensibility similar to the renewed interest in vinyl records. Moviegoers also say the boxes offer access to obscure movies, offbeat training videos, or alternate versions of movies not found on streaming services.

And then there’s the nostalgia factor: Going to a Free Blockbuster replicates a lost ritual that a generation of Americans once enjoyed.

A trip to the video rental store was a regular night out or a family outing. You can chat movies with the staff, browse titles from your favorite department – new, action, classic, foreign – and study blurbs on VHS boxes to help you make up your mind.

According to Zenisek, visiting a free Blockbuster is a trip back in time. “I’m going to this place and I’m going to pick a movie and bring it home.”

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