‘Save the Video Store’ interactive experience in Marietta mines 1990s movie nostalgia

Guests toss VHS cases as part of a team contest at "Save the Video Store," an immersive entertainment experience set in a 1990's movie rental store in Marietta on Saturday, May 7, 2022.  Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

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Guests toss VHS cases as part of a team contest at "Save the Video Store," an immersive entertainment experience set in a 1990's movie rental store in Marietta on Saturday, May 7, 2022. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

From ‘Men in Black’ to ‘Clueless’ to ‘Twister,’ the decade’s biggest films are namechecked and spoofed.

The Avenue West Cobb shopping center in Marietta has plenty of retail shops that were big in the 1990s like a Hallmark store, a Sunglass Hut and a Famous Footwear. Then there is something called MovieBuster in what used to be a Gap.

Its logo suspiciously resembles that of the once ubiquitous Blockbuster video rental store, now gone except for a single store in Bend, Oregon.

Except MovieBuster isn’t renting videos at all. It’s actually an interactive experience called “Save the Video Store” featuring actors playing archetypes from various 1990s movies such as “Clueless,” “Men in Black” and “Wayne’s World.”

The experience is aimed at millennials and Gen Xers who miss their weekend jaunts to the video store to rent the latest hot movie and grab some microwaved popcorn or Mike & Ikes.

“It was part of our social routine growing up,” said actor and director Erin Stegeman, 38, who came up with the idea while she was pregnant and watching a Marvel movie set in 1995 where Captain Marvel falls through the roof of a painstakingly authentic Blockbuster store. (Blockbuster had more than 9,000 stores in the United States at its peak in the late 1990s.)

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220508-Marietta-Guests wait to enter "Save the Video Store," an immersive entertainment experience set in a 1990's movie rental store in Marietta on Saturday, May 7, 2022. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

220508-Marietta-Guests wait to enter "Save the Video Store," an immersive entertainment experience set in a 1990's movie rental store in Marietta on Saturday, May 7, 2022.  Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Combined ShapeCaption
220508-Marietta-Guests wait to enter "Save the Video Store," an immersive entertainment experience set in a 1990's movie rental store in Marietta on Saturday, May 7, 2022. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Stegeman is a relative newcomer to metro Atlanta, having moved to Peachtree City from Los Angeles a year ago. She said she hunted around for a space at a reasonable rent for this venture and The Avenue West Cobb hit the spot: “I love that it’s in the middle of suburbia, surrounded by Barnes & Noble and other stores that were so tied to this particular era.”

Each show runs about 75 minutes and is a blend of structured interactive games with patrons, scripted dialogue among the actors and basic improv. Standard admission is $49 while VIP tickets at $75 include a special party pack and free drinks in the employee lounge.

The organizers are doing ten shows a week Thursday through Sunday, some in the afternoon, some in the evening. The experience, which originally was supposed to end June 10, has been extended to August 7.

“Save the Video Store” mines both nostalgia for the 1990s and the popularity of other interactive gatherings like escape rooms, murder mystery dinners and recent “Friends” and “Downton Abbey” experiences that have passed through town. It even uses the Fever Up app, which specializes in promoting these types of events, to sell tickets.

The “show” effectively begins while customers are waiting to enter. On a recent Saturday evening two characters loosely playing Garth (Ace Marrero) and Wayne (KymBerli Dee) from “Wayne’s World” started goofing around with patrons, marveling over their smartphones. Garth carried a boombox and Wayne, a VHS camcorder.

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Actors Ace Marrero (left) and KymBerli Dee participate in the "Save the Video Store" interactive experience at The Avenue West Cobb May 14, 2022, loosely playing Garth and Wayne from "Wayne's World." RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/

Actors Ace Marrero (left) and KymBerli Dee participate in the "Save the Video Store" interactive experience at The Avenue West Cobb May 14, 2022, loosely playing Garth and Wayne from "Wayne's World." RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/

Combined ShapeCaption
Actors Ace Marrero (left) and KymBerli Dee participate in the "Save the Video Store" interactive experience at The Avenue West Cobb May 14, 2022, loosely playing Garth and Wayne from "Wayne's World." RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/

Credit: RODNEY HO/

“I didn’t realize they were actors at first,” said Shay Blake, 32, of Peachtree Corners, dressed in a 1990s-era Starter jacket she already had in her closet. “I just thought they were participants like us who were really committed.”

Each “customer” was handed a VHS tape to “return” and employees kept reminding people to “be kind, rewind!” And throughout the show, it’s mentioned frequently that “Titanic” is perpetually out. Life-size cardboard cutouts scattered around the store parody actual 1990s films such as “Austin Powers,” “Spice World” and “My Best Friend’s Wedding.”

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The "Save the Video Store" interactive at The Avenue West Cobb is a faux video rental store from the 1990s. Actors Erin Stegeman (left, who created the experience) and Zach Canner play employees. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.

The "Save the Video Store" interactive at The Avenue West Cobb is a faux video rental store from the 1990s. Actors Erin Stegeman (left, who created the experience) and Zach Canner play employees. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.

Combined ShapeCaption
The "Save the Video Store" interactive at The Avenue West Cobb is a faux video rental store from the 1990s. Actors Erin Stegeman (left, who created the experience) and Zach Canner play employees. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.

The employees started defining themselves: the cynical, emo teen who might have stepped out of “The Craft”; the Paul Rudd-ish hopeless romantic; a super peppy Tracy Flick-type assistant manager, the greasy-haired drunken Johnny Depp-like store manager. A teen girl who looks suspiciously like Cher from “Clueless” wanders in with her bratty younger brother.

“I’m doing a combination of the kid from ‘Problem Child,’ Kevin McCallister from ‘Home Alone’ and David Spade,” said Summer McCusker, a 37-year-old playing the annoying 12-year-old. “I am there to cause as much mayhem and mischief as possible. When there are younger kids there, I really have a good time.”

Taurean Cavin-Flores, who plays the messy MovieBuster manager, is a former Los Angeles actor who came to Atlanta three years ago. He said his character was a blend of Anthony LaPaglia’s beleaguered record store manager in “Empire Records,” the Vegas magician Criss Angel and multiple Depp characters. “I really enjoy yelling at everybody,” he said. “I’m crowd control.”

Stegeman co-wrote the script, which threads a bomb threat, a volcano/twister problem and “Jurassic Park” shenanigans, into something that won’t exactly win coherence awards but entertained the early Saturday attendees.

“I loved it,” said Dallas resident Nina Fernandez, 36, who brought her 14-year-old daughter Eliana with her. They wore matching Lisa Simpson T-shirts. She didn’t know what to expect going in since the marketing materials she saw were vague. “I didn’t know it would be interactive,” she said. “And I loved the music. We have to get the soundtrack!”

The 90s pop culture references were relentless, like the cop in “Terminator 2.”

The Paul Rudd lookalike serenaded the “Clueless” gal with Creed’s “Higher” as he asked her to prom. They, of course, went to prom as the song “Kiss Me” from “She’s All That” played. There are jokes about slow dial-up Internet, dot-matrix printers, Ja Rule and electronic pet toys Tamagotchis.

Two “Men in Black” characters at one point try to zing everyone with a neuralyzer so we forget this all even happened. (It doesn’t work.)

Instead, folks can hang out at a pop-up bar sipping signature cocktails with names like “Ninja Turtles Ooze,” “MIB Memory Zapp” and “Goodfellas Grapeful Dead.”

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Three friends dressed in '90s style for the "Save the Video Store" experience (from left): Maegann Stafford, 25, of Atlanta; Shay Blake, 32, of Peachtree Corners; and Alexis Clark, 24, of Jonesboro. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Three friends dressed in '90s style for the "Save the Video Store" experience (from left): Maegann Stafford, 25, of Atlanta; Shay Blake, 32, of Peachtree Corners; and Alexis Clark, 24, of Jonesboro. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Three friends dressed in '90s style for the "Save the Video Store" experience (from left): Maegann Stafford, 25, of Atlanta; Shay Blake, 32, of Peachtree Corners; and Alexis Clark, 24, of Jonesboro. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

IF YOU GO

“Save the Video Store” experience

Through July 10. 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 1, 3, 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays; 1 and 3 p.m. Sundays. $49; $75 VIP admission, which provides a party pack and free drinks. The Avenue West Cobb, 3625 Dallas Highway, #470, Marietta. feverup.com.