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How Some Video Stores Are Staying Alive While Others Are Having Fire Sales

Massachusetts – You can rent “The Alamo” at Movieworks in Danvers Square. But if you work there you might already feel you’re at the Alamo.

Instead of Santa Anna’s troops marching at you, however, it’s a lethal army of cable companies, mail order movies, supermarket vending machines, Internet movies — even the public library, all fighting to lure your customers away.

“People are shocked that we’re still in business,” manager Chris Purington said with a laugh. “Absolutely shocked. I get asked every day, ‘When are you going out of business?'”

Instead of going out of business, Movieworks has scrambled to stay healthy, offering a dizzying array of products, from video games to standard DVDs to Blu-ray discs to VHS tapes (“People are amazed when they see VHS tapes on the shelf,” Purington said) to candy and popcorn. Moreover, all these things come with discounts — discounts for seniors, discounts for early returns, discounts for multiple rentals.

Meanwhile, less nimble and less fortunate video businesses have failed all across the North Shore. The West Coast Video in Salem remains open while selling out stock from that and other stores.

“We’re in liquidation,” according to a clerk who answered the phone at West Coast Video. The original manager has been replaced by a professional liquidator. Customers come and go, seeking discounted movies, but the “Store Closing” signs in the window leave little doubt that the store’s days are numbered.

Purington believes his main competitor is Redbox, which dispenses movies from supermarket vending machines. Netflix, which promises to deliver your movie the next day, brings fewer concerns. Some people don’t want to wait a day. “Tomorrow, you might not want to see the movie,” he noted. “And the mail is the mail.” Which means there are times your movie comes late, or comes broken, or doesn’t come at all.

Online movies available from Netflix and others are beyond many computer-illiterate movie lovers. Thus, some buyers want it in their hand on the day they decide to watch it.

Cable movies “on demand,” Purington insists, are more expensive.

Even after moving from Danvers to Middleton, Pradeep Reddy still comes back to Movieworks to pick out films. “I like to see the colors on the box,” he said. “I like to read about the movie. … It’s more personal to speak about it with the person in the store.”

That personal touch has helped keep Chet’s Video vibrant after 18 years on Essex Street in downtown Marblehead. The relative isolation of this peninsula community has helped make Chet’s a local favorite with a strongly loyal clientele. In addition, owner Chet Strout has a sense of what this upscale, well-educated town might like.

“We’ve done a lot with independent and foreign films over the years,” he said. “We’ve got stuff that Blockbuster would never carry.”

Two Blockbuster stores are still doing business in Beverly and Swampscott.

In common with Blockbuster, Strout does not carry “adult,” or pornographic, films. “A lot of kids come in,” he explained.

Adult films have helped Movieworks survive in Danvers. They are at the back of the shop, walled off from the mainstream movies. In fact, Purington’s boss, Greg Revill, sent him to a convention last year to study ways of encouraging people who are not otherwise inclined to sample the adult films.

“There weren’t any performers,” he noted. “But you could tell the people there were in pornography.”

Seniors often rent the adult films, he added, taking advantage of their two-for-one discount. Other patrons have raised concerns about it, noting that Movieworks is a family store.

It’s yet another worry for video store owners.

“We’re the last of a dying breed,” Purington said.

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