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New ‘Free Blockbuster’ Boxes Let Locals Donate and Borrow Movies

Next to a park bench, across from Bob & Edith’s Diner on Columbia Pike, there’s a converted newspaper box with the words “Free Blockbuster,” framed by that nostalgic dark yellow movie ticket stub, spray-painted on the front.

Inside, passersby can find free movies, popcorn and candy to enjoy a movie night at home.

The Free Blockbuster box was set up by Ryan Daley, who split his childhood between Arlington and D.C. The Wakefield High School grad said he saw one in Philadelphia filled with movies for locals to take and leave. He quickly decided to set up two here in Arlington and one in D.C.

Daley chose the spot near Bob and Edith’s for the box because, in his words, “I feel like diners and movies go together.” The box has been there since last Monday, July 19.

“I wanted to do something special for the movie lovers in the area, for the ones who enjoy movies as much as I do,” said Daley, who said he is in the early stages of creating an independent movie company. “I went to several thrift stores and pawn shops in the area and hand-picked over 100 movies, all movies I thought were amazing and worth watching.”

Daley also set up a Free Blockbuster in Prospect Hill Park, near Pentagon City, a place he frequently went as a child and has fond memories of. Another is in Lincoln Park in D.C. for the same reason.

Brian Morrison set up the first Free Blockbuster box in 2019. He says there are now over 50 Free Blockbusters across the U.S. and one in Canada. The Los Angeles local and movie buff says the concept is to “take a dead space and make it into a live space.”

Morrison said he wants today’s families to have the experience of going to pick out a movie in person together, an experience he says he enjoyed in his childhood, and one that is rare in the age of streaming services, after the bankruptcy of Blockbuster.

(Out of the thousands of stores worldwide, only one Blockbuster store remains — a store in Bend, Oregon that was recently the subject of a documentary.)

The inspiration for Free Blockbuster came from a trio of observations and experiences, Morrison says. One source was his friend, a fellow movie buff who couldn’t take her large collection of movies with her on a cross-country move and was struggling to figure out what to do with them. At the same time, he noticed a local newspaper, LA Weekly, was cutting down on their print publication, leaving lots of empty newspaper dispensers around the city unused or filled with trash.

He decided to find a use for the receptacles and create a way for people to get and give movies to their neighbors — following the model of Little Free Library, a nonprofit that helps people set up free libraries across the U.S.

Morrison emphasized that the box is for borrowing movies, not taking them, saying, “we generally hope things make their way back.”

And movies are not the only items one might find in a Free Blockbuster. Some can be found filled with candy and popcorn, and sometimes gaming consoles, VCR players and VHS tapes, said Morrison.

The Free Blockbuster website sells all the supplies one would need to make a Free Blockbuster, including a logo stencil, logo stickers and Free Blockbuster box.

“Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to make a Free Blockbuster,” said Morrison.

But Daley decided to use his own supplies to build Arlington’s boxes. He drove around a few different neighborhoods and found some abandoned newspaper stands that he took home to spray-paint.

“I had to laser print the stencil myself,” he said.

Daley dubbed the boxes “Kurt’s Movie Rack,” which he said is an homage to his “favorite human, Kurt Cobain,” the late frontman of ’90s grunge band Nirvana.

Daley has been documenting the creation of his Free Blockbuster boxes and the development of his indie movie company on his Blue Tape Movies Instagram account, which already has more than 10,000 followers.

Hat tip to Chris Slatt

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