New store offers videos, games all the time

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LEWISTON – An unassuming storefront on Sabattus Street is home to one of the hottest European imports since the BMW – a 24-hour, automated video store.

Moviebank, an international corporation that launched franchises in the United States a year ago, makes movies and games available 24/7 from small stores, kiosks, or even vending machines. The first Moviebank in New England opened a month ago in Ben’s Plaza.

“I had been searching for a business for a long time,” said Spencer Quirion, a former stockbroker who owns Moviebank with his wife, Melinda. “I looked into this one and got excited about it. I hope to have multiple locations around the state.”

Quirion’s excitement was borne of personal experience. The father of teenagers, he was dismayed when his kids asked to go to a video store, despite having movies in the house that arrived recently via mail.

“But those aren’t the ones we want to watch,” was the response he often heard, he said.

Moviebank couples round-the-clock access with a solid inventory. In the small space he leases at the strip mall, Quirion has more than 1,000 titles, including new releases. Dozens of DVD cases are displayed on the store’s walls, ranging from “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Invincible” to games like Madden ’07 and LEGO Star Wars.

But they’re mostly for decoration. The real browsing occurs on one of the store’s six video screens. There, customers can browse the offerings, make their selections, pay with a prepaid membership card or a credit card and then walk a couple of feet to a machine where they pick up their rentals. The whole process is fully automated, requiring no human interaction.

The only necessary face time is to get a membership card. The Lewiston store is staffed from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday night; from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; and from noon until 10 p.m. Saturday to process membership requests.

So far, Quirion says he has 300 members from just word-of-mouth advertising. He’s building up inventory, acquiring more movies and Wii and PlayStation3 games to augment the PS2 and Xbox games he already has.

“We’re really happy with the growth; it’s a great convenience for people,” he said.

Customers can also browse selections online at www.moviebankusa.com, reserve a copy of their choice for three hours and pick it up at the local Moviebank.

Members are charged $1.98 for a 24-hour rental, but only 99-cents if they return it within 12 hours. It’s 99-cents for every additional day after the first.

And, as a franchise owner within the global Moviebank empire, Quirion can make all the newest movies available seconds after midnight of the release date.

“When ‘Snakes on a Plane’ came out, we had it available immediately … people came in at midnight and got it,” he said.

Last year Inc. magazine cited automated video enterprises as one of the five best ideas to watch in the upcoming year. The video kiosks and vending machines have been very popular in Europe. MoviebankUSA, a subsidiary of an Italian company, tested its first kiosks in Manhattan in 2005 and is now looking for franchise investors across the country.

Quirion has the rights for Maine. He said it would cost about $150,000 to set up a 600-square-foot store similar to his. Kiosks and vending machines are also available for places like convenience stores or malls that want to offer video rentals without the hassle of stocking and tracking them.

“They generate terrific foot traffic,” he said. “Even mom-and-pop stores can have them. The vending machines are the size of Coke machines.”

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