SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 27, 2013

Defying the odds

Video store in downtown Marblehead celebrates 20 years in business

By Jonathan Phelps
Staff writer

---- — MARBLEHEAD — Marc Vaucher walked into Chet’s Video & Candy Shoppe on Essex Street with his son Grant during last week’s school vacation, looking to rent a few movies.

“It is a ‘Die Hard’ kind of day,” Vaucher told owner Chet Strout.

It was like a scene from years past, when people headed to movie stores to rent a DVD, instead of relying on Redbox at the supermarket, On Demand on cable TV or Netflix online.

Chet’s is celebrating 20 years in business while most other movie rental stores on the North Shore have gone under, including Blockbuster in Beverly and Swampscott, Movieworks in Danvers, and West Coast Video in Salem.

“We get traffic from Salem, Swampscott, Lynn and Beverly from people who want to go to a brick-and-mortar store,” Strout said.

The only similar rental store he knows of is in Newburyport, some 30 miles away.

Strout, who grew up in town, and his wife, Carrie Thomas, said it’s customer service and small-town charm that has allowed the business to survive.

“There is a first-name basis for both customer and owner,” he said.

The store opened in 1992 with 1,000 VHS tapes, after the couple had spent several years looking for a spot. Strout had been working as a bartender and fence contractor.

“I was driving through the intersection, and I looked to my left and did a double take,” Strout said. He called his wife and they took “one look before deciding to open the store here” — at 1 Essex St., right in the Five Corners area of downtown. The couple bought the building in 2005 and now live on the third floor.

They purchased their first DVD, “Top Gun,” in 1998.

As a movie buff, Strout is able to recommend films that customers may not have seen. They carry documentaries, independent and foreign films in addition to the latest Hollywood hits.

“There really is a social aspect to the store that makes it a center of the community,” Thomas said.

With no bowling alley, movie theater or much entertainment for families in town, the store has become a destination for kids, who usually run straight to the kids section out back.

“I get comments from parents saying their kids beg them to come to Chet’s on a daily basis,” Strout said.

In a corner of the store, customers can select an assortment of candy by the pound to go along with their movies. There’s everything from Sour Patch Kids to jelly beans and chocolate.

Adding to the personal touch, the store also offers free popcorn, a senior citizen discount and free birthday rentals. They also sell baseball cards, Pez dispensers, old-fashioned soda and records.

As part of the store’s commitment to the community, Thomas is hosting a fundraiser on Saturday for the Friends of Marblehead’s Abandoned Animals, Friends of Lynn/Saugus Animals and Friends of Beverly Animals. The event, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., will feature sales, raffles for baskets and a Blu-ray player, face-painting, Jacob the Balloon Kid, refreshments, and information about adopting pets.

Strout and Thomas both said they plan to continue running the shop for the foreseeable future.

“Before we even opened the store, there was talk about the demise of video stores,” Strout said.

Vaucher said he’s been going to the store for about 10 years.

“This is really like your hometown video store,” he said. “It’s fun. You can chat with Chet and see what is worth renting.”

He said he is surprised by the stock of movies the store is able to maintain.

“I like that they have a lot of old classics,” Vaucher said. “I’ve been introducing my kids to all the classics, and surprisingly, they like them.”

Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at jphelps@salemnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.