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Porn: A racy way to stay in business

For some small independent video stores, the way to compete with big chains is to offer what they don't: pornographic videos.

By JAMES THORNER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 12, 2003


Your competitor is named Blockbuster. It's the biggest movie rental retailer with 5,400 stores in the United States. Its membership rolls include 52-million Americans and Canadians.

So what's the survival strategy of independent video store owners wary of being busted off the block?

In Pasco County you try to be as big, as clean and as bright as the big international movie rental chain. Your service has to shine.

But business security for many independent stores also rests with something else: stocking pornographic movies, something Blockbuster's corporate parent has refused to do.

Movie Mania, the new video store that opened Jan. 3 at the Shoppes of New Tampa in Wesley Chapel, is a case in point.

The 3,000-square-foot store is boxed in by Blockbusters 4 miles away in each direction on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. Owner Kevin Trowell runs two other video stores near Orlando and competes by stocking multiple copies of hit films under dazzling lights.

But what gives him an edge is the little room in the back, where prying eyes have to be at least 18 years old. There lurks his soon-to-open adult film section.

Trowell said porn rentals make his business more versatile. Men can indulge their tastes for risque fare, he said, while the wife and kids pick up a Disney or Arnold Schwarzenegger flick.

"It's not something I advertise or force on anybody," Trowell said.

In the community next door, Land O'Lakes, a new Blockbuster is headed for the Collier Commons shopping center under construction at State Road 54 and Collier Parkway.

Across the street, at an independent called Video Bar, a "for sale" sign stands in the window. It's one of the few local independents that doesn't rent porn.

But two other independents on U.S. 41, Land O'Lakes Video and A-1 Video, have buoyed business with XXX movies.

A-1 recently went out of business, but Land O'Lakes Video, a half mile south of Land O'Lakes High School, has hauled in a portable sign reading "Huge Mature Selection."

By that it doesn't mean senior citizen favorites like On Golden Pond.

Owner Manuel Gonzalez said his business wouldn't have survived six years without his offering a breadth of movies, including the hard stuff.

"There's not very many independents left," Gonzalez said. "That's the only reason I'm still in business. I can offer something Blockbuster can't."

At Megaflix at State Road 52 and U.S. 19 in Bayonet Point, owner Debbie Curreri describes her business as "an old-fashioned, neighborhood, mom & pop video store."

Curreri competes with Blockbuster and other video chains on customer service and price. The small adult section in a back room isn't critical to her success, Curreri said. Some regulars like to rent those movies.

"If they get them here they don't have to go into the sleazy stores," Curreri said.

As part of a media conglomerate Viacom, which owns children's cable channels such as Nickelodeon, Blockbuster has studiously avoided overly spicy entertainment.

It's not just porn that's a no-no. The chain doesn't even rent anything stronger than an 'R' rating.

"We do that to follow customer preferences. We have a family oriented environment," company spokesman Blake Lugash said.

Some neighbors who live in the Williamsburg community behind the Movie Mania are taking the same approach.

Gerald Cooper heads the 234-home neighborhood's security patrols. He criticized Movie Mania for planning to keep adult movies in a store with underage customers and store clerks.

It's not the first time neighbors have bashed the shopping center that includes Movie Mania. One family's complaints forced a liquor store that wants to move to the shopping center to forswear holding regular wine tastings.

Cooper said they might being the same pressure to bear on the video store.

"If it's going to be illicit in that back room back there, that's not allowed," Cooper said.

-James Thorner covers growth and development in Pasco County. He can be reached at (813) 909-4613 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4613. His e-mail address is thorner@sptimes.com.

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