Little Free Blockbuster: Be Kind, Please Rewind

Movie night just got a little more fun with Benicia’s Blockbuster Kiosk.

Nostalgia for decades past has always been a thing, but lately, the pull feels strong—particularly for the ‘90s. I thought it might be the fact that I grew up in this decade, but there’s more to it than that—folks of all ages are longing for what used to be. While this is presenting in fashion trends (‘80s power suiting, mom jeans, cropped pants, and sequined bags, anyone?), another way to get your nostalgic fix is to visit the Blockbuster kiosk on First Street.

Blockbuster, you ask?

This is not your typical throwback video rental store, but it’s the next best thing. A refurbished newspaper stand donated by the Benicia Herald is decked out in those classic blue and yellow hues. It’s free, and there are no rental or late fees—simply grab the old-school flick that catches your eye. You can leave one in its place if you want, but it’s not a requirement.

Thomas Brungardt and Tony Bernasconi, creators of our town’s kiosk, are passionate about all things vintage.

They shared with me that freeblockbuster.org, which drives this kiosk idea, was started by a former Blockbuster employee. Tony saw one in Virginia and thought the tie-in to their Traveling Museum space, which is located inside Pocket Monkey Vintage, would be more than fitting, both location- and content-wise.

“Our initial idea for the Traveling Museum was to liquidate some of our personal vintage stuff that we’d been collecting for the better part of 20 years, kind of offloading some stuff to not be mini hoarders,” says Bernasconi. “Our slogan is that it’s a museum but it’s all for sale.”

“Plus the kiosk is fairly protected in a safe area that’s well-lit,” Brungardt adds. People can show up 24 hours a day, they can grab a tape and [during open hours] watch it in the Traveling Museum Annex if they want to; some people don’t have VCRs and DVD players anymore. Back in the day when there was a Blockbuster or a Hollywood Video or a mom and pop, I remember reading the summaries and the review, spending more time picking one out than it takes to watch. I especially hope the younger generation can experience that.”

While the inventory inside the kiosk is constantly changing, it fits about four or five dozen DVDs, so you’re sure to find something you like.

Brungardt and Bernasconi have current favorites from the kiosk, which has only been on First Street since April 1st.

“My favorite first exchange that happened was with 28 Days Later, The Zombie Movie,” says Bernasconi. “It’s kind of a famously difficult dvd to find, that was cool to see in there.”

“I’d been looking for Deep Blue Sea for a long time and was thrilled to find it,” Brungardt says. “We say it’s the second best shark attack movie ever made. It’s so bad that it’s good.”

Aside from these and VHS tapes, you might find another gem, such as a donated DVD player, video games, or CDs.

No matter what you uncover, you’re getting to participate in and experience something many of us are longing for from days past—or, if Bernasconi is correct, experience something that may become more of a mainstay.

“In the streaming age, there’s definitely something to be said for physical media,” he says. “We’re about to witness, maybe not the downfall of streaming, but—it’s become kind of like a lamer version of cable. If you have a movie in mind, you check three places you can watch, and it’s not there. Then you’re like, ‘oh it’s on Paramount+, that’s the one streaming platform I don’t have.’ Then you’re trying to pirate it off your friend, but they’re cracking down on passwords. It’s just crazy. Having your 50 movies on DVD or VHS might make a little comeback. I think the free Blockbuster kiosk is going to contribute to that.”

The free Blockbuster kiosk and the Traveling Museum can be found at 560 1st St. Check them out for yourselves!