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Blockbuster Box the main attraction in European Championship – Winnipeg Free Press

Blockbuster Box the main attraction in European Championship – Winnipeg Free Press
Blockbuster Box the main attraction in European Championship – Winnipeg Free Press

A blue-and-yellow box full of films in custom jackets — and sometimes popcorn — sits outside a house in East Kildonan, the nostalgic Blockbuster logo glowing faintly in the daylight.

Friday was the first day of AJ Ongenae’s franchise — the first Free Blockbuster to pop up in Winnipeg. He saw the idea on YouTube and thought it was cool, so he decided to make one himself.

“I just wanted to make it,” Ongenae, 39, said outside his home at 344 Kimberly Ave. “Now I just hope that people use it for, you know, if they want to have a movie night, make it a Blockbuster night.”

NIC ADAM / FREE PRESS

“It’s just nice to give back sometimes,” said AJ Ongenae. The Winnipegger said he hopes people will return movies to his free library-style Blockbuster box, or donate their own films.

The concept mimics that of Little Free Libraries, a movement that promotes neighborhood book exchanges through public bookcases. Users take a book and leave one in place or return it after reading.

Ongenae made all the parts he needed for the box before assembling it and painting it in his living room. He filled it with dozens of films and had to restock it with about 50 films on Monday.

“A lot of the boxes I saw were just old newspaper boxes and they had repurposed them and none of them had lights and logos and stuff,” he said. “There were some cool ones, but not a lot and so I just wanted to make the best ones I could.”

Ongenae admits he’s not a movie buff, but he still carries his Blockbuster card in his wallet.

“I’m at an age where I like to watch the movies I know,” Ongenae said. “I watch the same movies once a year, every year.”

Most of the films he has collected over the years or found at garage sales, with some visitors leaving their own DVDs in the box to round out the mix of comedy, romance and action films.

He added a box of microwave popcorn to the mix, and it was gone in two days.

Ongenae has noticed his franchise gaining popularity in the East Kildonan community Facebook group and says the group is also physically busy.

Free Blockbuster was founded in 2019 by Brain Morrison, a Los Angeles producer and former Blockbuster employee.

The Winnipeg location joins nine others in Canada, in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto. There are more than 160 boxes in the United States and one each in Mexico, Australia and England, according to the organization’s website.

NIC ADAM / FREE PRESS

AJ Ongenae began offering movies to his neighborhood community last week through a Blockbuster box he placed in front of his Kimberly Avenue home.

Ongenae hopes that users will return the films or donate their own for others to enjoy. He also says that it is “inevitable” that people will keep them as souvenirs and says that is fine too.

He’s waiting to see how the box holds up once winter sets in, but hopes to continue with it once summer is over. He also hopes to see others set up in other parts of the city.

“Sometimes it’s just nice to give something back,” he said.

Blockbuster was a video rental store chain founded in 1985. The chain expanded into video game rental and DVD delivery services, but struggled as streaming became more accessible and competitors such as Netflix entered the scene.

At its peak, the U.S. company operated 9,094 stores worldwide. Blockbuster’s sales continued to decline, leading to bankruptcy; the company announced the closure of its 253 Canadian stores on August 31, 2011. The remaining stores were closed in 2014.

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