February 4, 2012

Local Blockbuster stores hang closing signs

Locations in South Portland, Westbrook and Lewiston apparently are on a list of stores closing.

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Three of Blockbuster's locations in Maine, including South Portland and Westbrook, apparently are on an expanded list of unprofitable video rental stores that the parent company, Dish Network, has decided to close.

click image to enlarge

A customer heads into a Blockbuster location at 219 Waterman Drive in South Portland on Wednesday. This store and two others in Maine – one in Westbrook and another in Lewiston – are either closed or in the process of closing as part of a business decision by Blockbuster’s parent company, Dish Network.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

Despite a banner announcing Blockbuster's closure on Waterman Drive in South Portland and a similar sign at its Lewiston location, a Dish Network spokeswoman wouldn't confirm that the stores are closing. Store employees deferred questions to the corporate office.

A Blockbuster store in the Westbrook Crossing shopping center closed in October for renovations, so a Chipotle Mexican Restaurant could move into half of its space.

As Chipotle prepares to open on Feb. 14, there's no sign of Blockbuster's return.

WS Development, owner of the plaza, learned late last year that the tenant did not plan to come back, said spokesman David Fleming.

Linda Valentino, owner of the building on Waterman Drive, confirmed that Blockbuster plans to move out by the end of April.

A store employee in Lewiston, who declined to be named, said that location will close Feb. 19.

Reuters reported in January that Dish Network planned to close more stores than it anticipated when it bought Blockbuster for $320 million after the company went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year.

According to Reuters, Dish Network said in July that it would close about 10 percent of its stores and 1,500 would remain open. Chief Executive Officer Joe Clayton told Reuters last month that there would be additional closures.

Danielle Johnson, a Dish Network spokeswoman, said the company would not comment on individual stores.

"Blockbuster continues to evaluate the performance of each store location individually. ... (We) remain committed to maintaining only those stores that we believe we will be able to operate profitably," she wrote in an email.

Johnson said the company is focusing on its DVDs-by-mail service. She did not respond to a request for a list of Blockbuster locations in Maine.

John Gendron, owner of the Maine Square Mall in Bangor, said he was told that the Blockbuster store there would stay open. A Yarmouth store employee, who wouldn't be named, said that location also was spared.

The advent of Netflix and other Internet-based movie-streaming services in recent years has taken a toll on video rental stores.

But owners of local, independent movie stores say they're surviving. Bill Duggan, owner of Videoport on Middle Street in Portland, said he believes customer service sets them apart.

"Most chain stores have high employee turnover. It is rare to be helped by the same person more than once. Everyone working at Videoport has been here more than five years," Duggan wrote in an email.

Bart D'Alauro, owner of Bart & Greg's DVD Explosion! in Brunswick, said Netflix has taken some of his customers -- mostly people who don't live near the store and don't want to be inconvenienced by having to return a movie on time.

For others, he said, the experience of picking out a movie can't be replicated online.

"In a lot of ways it's a habit. You go in on a Friday night and look to see what's there. I think there's just something to be said for going into a store and see what catches your eye, read the back of the box," D'Alauro said.

He said he believes Blockbuster's business model -- overstocking new releases to guarantee customers wouldn't have to wait for movies -- was its downfall.

"After two weeks, 48 of the 50 copies are sitting on the shelf all the time," he said.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

lbridgers@pressherald.com

 

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