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Video and music stores: Adapt or die

November 5, 2011
By JESSICA COLLIER - Staff Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

If you want to get rich quick in this area, you're probably not going to open a video or music store.

As entertainment changes, with national services like redbox, Netflix and iTunes taking over, it's tough for a small store hocking CDs and DVDs to survive.

But while many of those small businesses have failed, some are finding ways to get by despite the tough times.

Article Photos

Ampersound proprietor Mark Coleman is wheeled out on a dolly by Dr. David Johnson Sunday morning, shaking hands with people who helped move his store. Tim Fortune, who organized the event, carries the ‘open’ flag.
(Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

Mark Coleman said the main key to keeping his business alive is being adaptable. Coleman opened Ampersound music store in Saranac Lake more than 22 years ago, and this week he's moving into a new storefront on Broadway to gain better visibility.

"Everybody has to adapt, and I think the ones that do adapt are more successful," Coleman said. "I consider it successful to be able to do what I do and be able to feed myself and a couple of dogs."

In recent years, Coleman has shifted to stocking more guitars and guitar accessories rather than investing in CDs, since so many people buy their music in electronic form these days from services like iTunes. He stocks mainly CDs that will attract older customers, since that population is more likely to want their music on a physical album.

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Saturday, Nov. 5 - Music stores and video rental shops

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While Coleman said his CD sales have definitely dropped in the last five or 10 years, he said his sales are still strong enough, with 20 to 40 special orders for CDs a week on average.

He's skeptical about attributing the drop in sales exclusively to more people getting their music in electronic form.

"I'm sure it's affected significantly, but I really don't know to what extent," Coleman said.

The other music shop in the Tri-Lakes, Audio-Vision in Lake Placid, shut down a few years ago. Coleman said he doesn't believe it was just the changing industry.

"There's no one reason why something happens like that," Coleman said.

Coleman also believes a big part of his success comes from the human interaction offered when people come into his store.

"Giving personal service means a lot to people," Coleman said. "Talking to people, having a face to talk to, rather than someone on the phone, rather than using the keyboard on the Internet.

"People are social animals, and they strive to be together."

He found out just how much people appreciate that when he moved his business last Sunday. Though it was an early, frigid morning the day after a number of Halloween parties, about 175 to 180 people showed up and lined up through downtown to pass his store contents by hand from the old location on Woodruff Street to the new one on Broadway, about two blocks away.

"It was awesome," Coleman said. "It's not surprising, because I certainly feel very well supported."

The transition of music and video to electronic form has in some ways helped Coleman improve his service, too. People can check out songs online; then they'll sometimes come in and buy the full album. Or when a person has an idea what a song is but doesn't know the title or band, like recently when a woman wanted to purchase a song she had heard on a TV show, Coleman went on YouTube and helped the customer figure out what she was looking for.


Video stores dwindling

There have always been few music stores in the Tri-Lakes, but there used to be a number of video rental stores: at least two in each Tri-Lakes village and some in smaller-town convenience stores as well. In the last few years, however, many video stores have shut their doors.

Just last year, Saranac Lake saw both of its video rental shops close. Broadway Video and Games was evicted after not paying its taxes and rent, and Movie Gallery shut down after the company went bankrupt.

The Enterprise couldn't determine whether Video Plus in Lake Placid, the last video store left in that village, is still open. The shop was not open when a reporter checked twice this week, and the phone number listed on the front of the business has been disconnected. People at the florist shop next door said if the business is still open, it's not open very often. A phone message left at the home of the business' last known owner was not returned.

Video stores are waning as people find other ways to rent or watch movies. A number of online resources like Amazon and iTunes let people buy or rent movies or TV episodes instantly from their computer, while others like Hulu let people watch some TV and movies for free.

Another alternative to stopping at the video rental joint is redbox, which is like a vending machine for renting movies. There's one at each supermarket in Lake Placid: Hannaford and Price Chopper.

Gina Martin was renting a movie from the redbox in the vestibule at Price Chopper Wednesday afternoon. She said she always uses redbox because it's cheap and convenient.

Martin lives in Bloomingdale but works at the Whiteface Lodge. She said it's easy to stop at the Price Chopper redbox on her way to and from work.

She used to go to the rental stores in Saranac Lake when they were open sometimes, but redbox is cheaper. It recently raised its prices from $1 to $1.20 a night, but that's still less expensive than the $3.99 she used to pay at Movie Gallery. Plus, sometimes the company runs promotions giving free rentals if someone refers a friend or hasn't used redbox in a while.

Redbox also lets people reserve the movie they want to rent online, then pick it up later.

"If I see something online that just came out, I can reserve it and they have it ready for me here," Martin said.

There is one video store in the area that has managed to survive thus far. Bob Fletcher, who owns Fletcher's Video Rental in Tupper Lake, said diversifying his shop to include a bottle redemption center has helped him keep his business above water.

"It's barely keeping alive," Fletcher said. "If it wasn't for the redemption center, I think I'd probably have to fold."

He has an apartment upstairs that he rents out, and the neighborhood kids come into the shop for candy, both of which also help.

Fletcher opened the store in 2008, about six months after Rebel's Video in Tupper Lake's Junction neighborhood shut down due to health issues with the owner. Once Tupper Lake didn't have a video store, he figured he could fill the void.

"I wanted a little hobby to do," Fletcher said.

Plus, he's a movie buff, and he decided it would be a good way for him to be able to watch a ton of movies while they pay for themselves.

But business hasn't been as good as he expected. It was booming at first, but then "all of a sudden people just got not interested in renting movies anymore," Fletcher said.

Like Coleman, Fletcher isn't convinced it's all the responsibility of movies moving online.

When Netflix recently announced it was increasing its prices and separating its online streaming videos from its discs-by-mail rental operation, people were outraged, and many canceled their subscriptions. But Fletcher didn't see an influx of customers when that happened.

"It's just one of those things that happens," Fletcher said. "That's retail."

He also invested in a collection of Blu-ray movies, since few video stores offer them, but he only has about three customers who rent them.

For now, though, he's not in terrible shape. He maintains a job at Shaheen's Market, so he's just looking to break even on the video store.

Plus, since he wasn't able to get banks to lend him money to open the business, he went ahead with it using only his savings and credit cards. He's now about a year-and-a-half away from owning the building.

Fletcher said it doesn't bother him that so many other video rental businesses have folded. It's a difference in what they're trying to achieve, he said.

"They wanted the big bucks in order to survive," Fletcher said. "But I don't look for it to pay my bills. I just pay the bills of the store."



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