'Be kind, rewind' is back: Republic woman introduces Ozarks' first Free Blockbuster

Christy Boyce, who set up the Free Blockbuster, said people are returning to "hard media" such as DVDs and VHS tapes in the era of streaming service fees.

Tony Madden
Springfield News-Leader
Christy Boyce places a VHS tape inside the Free Blockbuster kiosk in Republic on May 17, 2024.

Little Free Libraries are nothing new. In Springfield alone, there are more than 50 "take a book, leave a book" stations in front lawns, parks, and other high-traffic and residential areas. Republic woman Christy Boyce wanted to offer her community something similar, but with a twist: a little Free Blockbuster kiosk. With the same "take one, leave one" setup as a Little Free Library, little Free Blockbusters offer movies to passers-by.

So Boyce got to work. She found and upcycled an old distribution box and spray painted the Blockbuster logo on it. She also approached the Republic Parks Department for permission to install the kiosk at Owen Park, and the department happily obliged. They even poured a concrete pad for the new Free Blockbuster to stand near the parking lot.

"Every time I've gone, there have been different (movies) taken and put in there," Boyce said.

The miniature versions of Blockbuster, the now-obsolete video rental store, are made from "rescued" newspaper or real estate listing distribution boxes. Boyce first came up with the idea for Republic when she saw a TikTok video of a Free Blockbuster kiosk being installed in Los Angeles. She considered putting it in her front yard like some Little Free Libraries, but she thought it would get more traffic at the park.

"I have about 300 DVDs now, because they all came out of the woodwork to offer them," Boyce said.

Christy Boyce stands with the Free Blockbuster kiosk she set up at Owen Park in Republic on May 17, 2024.

Boyce's is the first Free Blockbuster in the Springfield area, with the previously closest located near Rolla. According to Free Blockbuster, the California nonprofit behind the kiosks, there are more than 200 such "take a movie, leave a movie" stations around the United States, with three in Missouri. The concept began in the late 2010s when a former Blockbuster employee and VHS tape collector wanted to find a way to reuse those old distribution boxes.

The nonprofit, which is not affiliated with Blockbuster, says its mission is to dispel the "myth of scarcity" by providing free entertainment to as many people as possible. Boyce likes that idea — that there is still free entertainment to be found.

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Boyce also said she appreciates the nostalgia. The act of browsing for a DVD and even seeing the Blockbuster logo brings back memories, she said. But she also said in the 21st century, people are returning to hard media. Whether they're completing an album collection or dodging extra fees on streaming services, people want to collect DVDs, CDs, vinyl records, and other physical media.

"I know people who are collecting VHS now because for one thing, they're inexpensive, and you can get them for 50 cents at a thrift store," Boyce said.

Christy Boyce holds a Free Blockbuster spray-paint stencil she used on the Republic kiosk on May 17, 2024.

Boyce regularly restocks the Free Blockbuster in Republic with the DVDs she has gathered from the community. It's usually about half-full, which tells her community members are definitely using it. The kiosk has also gathered a small following on Facebook, where the community can request movies or report any issues.

"A lot of people have said, 'Well what if people steal all the DVDs?'" Boyce said. "I don't care. I'll replace them. They're not that expensive. They're not irreplaceable."