I can’t remember the last time I visited a Blockbuster Video store, likely because I never thought it would be my last time.
It’s easier to recall the red envelopes with DVDs showing up more frequently at my parents’ doorstep when the streaming library was unsatisfactory — which it mostly was at first. And then those disappeared too as more movie choices became available from home.
So this Zillennial reporter (from the age group that has characteristics of both millennials and Gen Z) was excited to see a bar in Pinellas Park honoring one of my favorite childhood destinations, a place to reminisce an experience I never properly got to say goodbye to.
This new hangout spot is called Beerbusters Movie Bar.
The Blockbuster-themed bar opened last week in a small strip center on Park Boulevard and offers local craft beer and a selection of DVD rentals for $1. The menu has movie theater staples like candy, pizza rolls and popcorn.
Walking in, Beerbusters isn’t as highly produced as the many themed bars in St. Petersburg, where every angle is designed to be “Instagrammable.” The walls are lined with bookshelves filled with hundreds of DVDs that owner Billy Dieli said he already had or got through donations from his mom and friends. Some DVD boxes still have the iconic Blockbuster barcode stickers on them.
The bar is filled with random movie memorabilia: old posters, a skeleton wearing a vintage Blockbuster shirt and a Spider-Man lamp.
There are also televisions above the main bar for sports games and movie nights. Dieli said one day he might dress in a shark costume for a “Jaws” movie marathon. The owner said the bar also supports local brands so it’s supplied with craft beer and ciders from 3 Daughters, Green Bench and Cigar City breweries.
Most of the nostalgia at Beerbusters can be found in its DVD selection.
I saw movies like “Princess Bride,” the fantasy comedy released two years after the first Blockbuster store opened in Dallas in 1985. Also on the shelves was a whole DVD set with each season of “Friends,” the ′90s sitcom that ran at the height of Blockbuster’s success and ended when the company was at its peak in 2004 with 9,000 stores nationwide. Today, there’s only one Blockbuster store left in Bend, Oregon.
With the advent of Netflix streaming movies and Blockbuster’s bankruptcy filing in 2010, Dieli said people miss having a place to scour for movies — the scrolling process has made selecting a film feel monotonous.
Dieli, who worked at Blockbuster for nine years, said he wanted to combine two things he really liked into a hangout spot: craft beer and movies. That’s how Beerbusters was born.
“There’s no longer a destination of going to get something. Instead you’re just sitting there on Netflix all day and trying to find something and going through all this content,” Dieli said.
When I asked Dieli if renting DVDs was still profitable, he shrugged.
“Since I didn’t spend any money on the inventory, yeah anything I make off the movies is profit,” he said.
Dieli said he purposely looked for DVDs that aren’t easy to find on streaming services — Adam Sandler movies “Happy Gilmore” and “Billy Madison,” for example — so it’s worth spending the dollar at Beerbusters rather than paying $4 on Amazon to rent.
I considered grabbing the trilogy set for “Lord of the Rings” sitting on the shelf designed to look like J.R.R. Tolkien’s books. It would have been perfect to watch it ahead of Amazon Prime’s prequel series “The Rings of Power” and contemplate the shifting mediums of storytelling over the past century.
But then I remembered I don’t have a DVD player anymore.
Most people don’t, Dieli said. But there’s still a fair amount who have video-game systems that support DVDs.
While I couldn’t take a movie home with me, I enjoyed drinking a glass of 3 Daughters raspberry lemonade cider while browsing through the rows of old movies, being able to hold them in my hands and read the synopsis on the back without being force-fed an auto-playing trailer.
Though it was far from an exact replica of a Blockbuster store, it brought me back to the days when I would look for the newest Barbie movies and beg my parents for any of the candies by the cash register.