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Free Blockbuster box gives Provincetown a one-stop-shop for nostalgic VHS and DVD needs

A Free Blockbuster stand in Provincetown houses an honor-system video borrowing program inspired by the Blockbuster chain.
A Free Blockbuster stand in Provincetown houses an honor-system video borrowing program inspired by the Blockbuster chain.Elizabeth Simon

Provincetown locals and visitors now have the chance to be kind and rewind.

A repurposed newspaper dispenser emblazoned with the Blockbuster logo stands outside the Stop & Shop on Shank Painter Road, packed with DVDs and VHS tapes for the taking. It’s one of dozens of Free Blockbuster “franchises” around the country, honoring the video rental chain that shuttered most of its physical locations in the 2010s.

Anthony Gelsomino, who moved to Provincetown in 2020, erected the Free Blockbuster box in February. He learned about Free Blockbuster when he visited his friend Brian Morrison — who started the project in Los Angeles in 2019 — and there was a stand stocked with videos in front of his apartment.

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“I was actively looking for ways to ingratiate myself into the community [in Provincetown], and that visit with Brian and talking about this Free Blockbuster, it clicked for me,” Gelsomino said.

Morrison was inspired by community-stocked, honor-system models like Little Free Library, standalone depositories that allow passersby to donate and borrow books. Since then, he’s enlisted friends nationwide to set up and maintain their own boxes.

“We get to work on a weird big collective art project together,” Morrison said. “We get to collaborate from across the country.”

Each Free Blockbuster project is self-funded and the proprietors, like Gelsomino, are allowed to display the films using “anything that works for your community,” according to the Free Blockbuster website. Gelsomino bought a $200 “Blockbuster yellow” dispenser on Etsy, spray-painted it with the blue Free Blockbuster logo using the stencil from his $150 founder’s kit, and got permission from the Stop & Shop location to put it up — right next to a Little Free Library.

When he initially stocked the stand, Gelsomino wanted to pay homage to John Waters, a beloved local. “I was like, ‘This definitely needs a Provincetown twist,’” he said. He hunted in thrift stores and online to find VHS tapes of Waters’s filmography — including “Hairspray” and “Pecker.”

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Gelsomino said it seems like the town is embracing the new addition. People are encouraged to both take and leave movies — recent offerings spotted in the box included DVDs of “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” and “Anchorman,” and VHS tapes of “Ransom” and “Saturday Night Fever.”

“The turnaround has been so amazing,” he said. “I’ve never seen someone actually use it, but every week, I’ll drive by and there’ll be a whole new selection of movies in there.”

Despite the ubiquity of streaming services, Gelsomino said he thinks the Cape Cod town is an ideal locale for a resurgence of physical media.

“Here, it’s a little bit slower paced, and I think people are liking this journey to the Free Blockbuster box and the fact that they’re watching something on VHS,” he said.

Interest in the venerable video rental chain has seen a modest renaissance in recent months. “The Last Blockbuster,” a documentary about the one remaining brick and mortar store in Bend, Ore., was released on Netflix in March. It was the platform’s 10th most popular film the week of its debut, with 133 million minutes of nostalgia streamed, according to Nielsen.

Morrison, who worked at a Blockbuster in the late ’90s, said this project is more than a walk down memory lane.

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“This is not a nostalgia project, it’s a future project,” Morrison said. “Now is the time to share — the time to understand that we can have collective goods.”

Gelsomino posted about the box on a Provincetown community page on Facebook, and is considering upping publicity now that tourist season is imminent.

“Knowing that the town is using it is sort of the gift enough,” Gelsomino said. “It’s such a quirky place, and there are so many little surprises in Provincetown around every corner. I feel like I’ve given my little piece to the town.”

Follow Dana Gerber on Twitter @DanaGerber6.