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Philadelphia’s third Free Blockbuster opened last week on East Passyunk Avenue, outside local design and apparel shop South Fellini.
The little lending libraries, where neighbors leave movies and games for others to pick up and enjoy, aren’t technically allowed on city streets, but officials are leaving them alone for now, they confirmed to Billy Penn.
The idea started in Los Angeles, then jumped 3,000 miles cross country to Philly. The first opened in Fishtown in November. Another followed in Kensington last month, and on Saturday, a fourth popped up at in Cedar Park.
It’s no fluke they’re proliferating quickly here, according to the creator of the concept.
“It’s a Philly idea,” said Brian Morrison, the Delaware County native who started the trend on the West Coast. “Of course this cute, kitschy, quasi-socialist thing would appeal to them. They get it because Philly people get it.”
A television producer, Morrison grew up in Springfield, Pa. — and worked at the old Blockbuster on Baltimore Pike. He used to hang with other filmmaker-types on South Street, and his twin brother still lives and works in the city. The family is classic Delco, he said, with his mom Susan Triggiano known for her over-the-top lawn displays.
Since Morrison first thought up Free Blockbuster two years ago, former newspaper boxes sporting the familiar blue-and-yellow branding have popped up in California, Virginia, Georgia and Oklahoma. In addition to the trio in Philly, there’s another in his hometown.
It’s become buzzy enough that Morrison got a casual cease-and-desist letter from Blockbuster, LLC (now owned by Dish). He wrote back asking if he can keep using the logo, out of the goodness of the shuttered movie store’s heart, and a response is pending.
South Fellini owner Tony Trov knows Morrison and his twin brother — they all met back in the 2000s Philly film scene. But he didn’t plan on installing his own Free Blockbuster box until the shop’s neighbors asked for it.
“Everyone in South Philly went crazy. It was true jealousy,” Trov said. “A bunch of different neighborhood groups reached out to me. People just assumed I could probably make it happen.”
And so he could. Trov trash-picked an old newspaper box from Tacony, cleaned the thing, painted it with Morrison’s Free Blockbuster symbol — and voila. He put the box outside his shop on Monday, and said within 24 hours it was totally full.
“We’ve been getting tons of old movies, VHS, video games,” Trov said. “Someone posted it on Reddit yesterday and it got 25,000 upvotes.”
Technically, since the boxes often block part of the right of way on a sidewalk, you need a permit to put them out. But the city is lowkey taking a neutral stance on harmless neighborhood cheer.
“The Streets Department would prefer not to expend its resources to cite an owner for their volunteer efforts and who is performing small, simple acts of kindness like the lending of free books,” said spokesperson Joy Huertas.
Want a Free Blockbuster of your own? Just track down an old newspaper box and print the logo from Free Blockbuster’s website. “People wonder how you do it,” Trov said. “You just do it.”
Trov is hoping his outpost helps create community in the neighborhood — especially now, while folks can’t gather. In his ideal world, people will start virtual movie clubs and rotate their favorite flicks through the box.
Pending the outcome of the Blockbuster cease and desist, Morrison said he’ll see where the idea goes.
Regardless, the Philadelphia-turned-Californian thinks his movie rental substitute is exactly what people need right now.
“There really is something about going to a place and picking out a movie from the things that are there, and discovering something you wouldn’t normally pay attention to,” Morrison said. “That’s important. That is community.”