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Fade to green

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Front Row Seat manager Patricia Rivera sorts through the returned movies to restock the shelves.

By Rachel Segura Journal staff writer

There will always be a demand for movies. In a movie theater or at home, people love movies.

The movie rental business has seen some interesting times over the last five years.

As video rental stores came and went in Cortez like a freight train roaring through town, Front Row Seat has been the ever-present exception at 610 E. Main Street.

For 10 years, Patricia Rivera has been the store manager for Front Row Seat. She watched all the major video store chains crumble around her, but she says business has remained solid at Front Row Seat. There have been no close calls through the economic tough times, only a steady flow of customers as the years go on.

"We actually picked up during the recession," Rivera said. "People can't go to the theaters and we do have cheaper movies so that helped keep our customers around."

About the time purses and wallets got tighter, there were three additional video rental stores in Cortez. Blockbuster, located inside City Market, was the last store-in-store operation in the state. Movie Gallery had just purchased Hollywood Video stores, hiking its way up to the No. 2 spot for popular rental chains. They had made a new home at 215 Sligo Street. Then there was the small, mom-and-pop video store on Broadway, Video Palace.

Rivera said the there was only one time they ever saw a dip in their sales.

"We had a decline in traffic and sales when Movie Gallery opened because it was new," Rivera explained. "And when something new opens people always want to try it, and then sometimes they get tired of it."

Like passing ships in the night, Movie Gallery drifted out of town in 2009. A year later it closed the remaining stores all over the country. Blockbuster followed suit in 2010, closing its small operation in City Market.

Rivera was never too worried about incoming competition. Every fad fades with time but Front Row Seat has made a clear path to its door for both loyal customers and newcomers.

This small chain of stores owned by Jerry Stansbury and his wife, both from New Mexico, can be found in New Mexico locales in Grants, Gallup, Farmington, Bloomfield as well as Montrose, Colo. Rivera said Front Row Seat is a great company to work for because the stores are kept within a tight radius.

"It's a good way to keep all the stores at the same level and also, so they can travel to them all with ease. I think that's one of the reasons why they don't open any too far from home," Rivera said.

Only one Front Row Seat store has been closed in the past 10 years, and that was a store they had in Flagstaff, Ariz. But the closing of that location was not because of a lack of profits; rather from a store too far from the hub of stores. Front Row Seat seems to have become immune to the hard times.

In fact, two stores that had closed were able to reopen. A second location was added in Farmington and a new store opened in Bloomfield, bringing the total to seven stores to the region.

What is the reason for their success?

Perhaps it's their $3.97 new release rentals that customers can keep for five days at a time. Or maybe it's the older, classic genres that are only $1.97 for the same amount of time, not including tax. Even during the Blockbuster days, Front Row's prices were at an all time low. Instead of calling it a late fee, Front Row Seat uses a recheck out period where the customer can keep the video for another five days. Then, they can pay the same checkout price again when it is returned. Another initiative for Front Row patrons has been the $2 credit applied to all new releases brought back the day after checking out. River pointed out that this credit, put in place by the company three years ago, was a huge factor in keeping a thriving business during the peak recession time.

"We had lots of people bringing back their movies at that time and turning around to use the credit to rent more," she said.

Rivera and her team have been a long-standing presence in the community, with all five employees being on staff for a year or more. The assistant manager, Francisco has been on staff for five years.

Their smiling faces and friendly attitudes, Rivera believes, helps make the store successful. Employees try to be on a first-name basis with four out of five people who walk in the door, Rivera explained.

"We even have a couple of customers who are unable to get out of the car and walk around (to browse) so we go out to help, and get them what they need," Rivera said.

The only slow periods they experience is during the summer, when people would rather be outdoors. Winter is their busiest time of the year.

Currently, Front Row Seat is the only brick and mortar video rental store in Cortez. Other than the Redbox kiosks located in City Market, Walmart, Safeway and outside Walgreens, there is no other competition.

"Redbox doesn't affect us," she said with confidence. "We get our new releases 28 days before they do. It varies on the title (of movie) if customers want to see it right away. But some people don't want to wait that long."

It would seem there aren't many outside factors that can dent Front Row Seat's success. Even with movie streaming from satellite operators, Netflix and other online sources for downloading flicks, they seem to fare pretty well.

rachels@cortezjournal.com

Store has held steady over the years

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