During a recent trip to Alaska, I saw several things you won't find in many other U.S. states: moose, grizzlies, glaciers and Blockbuster stores.
The video-rental retail business is alive and well in Alaska, which is home to a quarter of the nation's remaining Blockbusters.
But how is this possible in the age of streaming Netflix and Redbox kiosks?
Especially when Dish Network, which bought Blockbuster at a bankruptcy auction in 2011, announced in November that it was closing the remaining 300 company-owned stores?
It seems any franchise owners or licensees who pay to use Blockbuster's name and logo can live on, becoming what are often called “zombie stores.” More than 50 such stores remain.
Twenty-six of those stores are owned by Texas-based Border Entertainment, and the company's president, Alan Payne, says his stores are still profitable.
"We've managed to make it work," he told NPR. "We've just been totally focused on what the stores could do that our competition could not do."
Brick-and-mortar stores aren't dead
What's the key to Payne's success? Setting low prices, maintaining a large selection of movies and knowing his customers.
Although the downfall of video-rental stores has been blamed on digital distribution, Payne says there are still consumers who frequent his stores.
These are people who don’t know how to rent movies online, who don't want to pay $3 or $4 for a rental, or who lack an Internet connection capable of streaming a movie.
In Payne's stores, older movies — which often can’t be found in Redbox kiosks — rent for 49 cents a day or 99 cents a week.
In Alaska, Internet options with the bandwidth needed to stream full movies can be expensive. Payne says his 13 stores in America’s last frontier — which offer up to 15,000 titles — get 40,000 to 50,000 customers a week.
"We recognize our strengths, we acknowledge our weaknesses, and we play to our strengths," Payne told the Anchorage Daily News. "And because of that we have an extremely large customer base in Alaska."
But it's not just the good selection and low prices that keep people coming back.
"Part of why people come, obviously, is for the community experience of seeing friends and seeing our employees in the stores that obviously know movies," Payne said.
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