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ISSUE 121 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 4/11/2008

Echo DVDs spares wallet

By Matt Everhart
Staff Writer

Friday, April 11, 2008

Let's not lie to ourselves: Northfield is a small town that can get kind of boring on cold January (or dreary March) afternoons. Many St. Olaf students turn to electronic forms of entertainment, namely movies, TV show box sets, video games and more music than your iPod can handle. Ah, but where do Northfieldites get all their gear? Target offers up a decent selection of new movies, games and music, but it's not exactly extensive, and it's certainly not within walking distance. The nearest Best Buy is in Lakeville, and the closest Gamestop is in Burnsville. Both of these options can be costly, and Best Buy doesn't carry a wide selection of older media. What's an Ole to do?

Well, an answer might have just appeared on Division Street. Echo DVDs, which opened on Jan. 11 in the block of stores between Goodbye Blue Monday and Rueb-n-Stein, sells used games, DVDs and music along with posters, pop culture collectables, and more. It's been a presence in Apple Valley for six years, but owners Kerri and Scott Houfer decided to move the store to Northfield when their lease in Apple Valley ended.

"We just fell in love with the town," said Kerri Houfer, manning the register and answering questions at the same time. It also made financial sense; they've owned the building on Division Street for years. The demographics of college town Northfield fit as well. Echo originally opened up in Athens, Ga., home to the University of Georgia, and enjoyed success for two years before the Houfers decided to move back to their home state.

Despite the fact that there aren't many other DVD and game stores in Northfield, and thus, less competition, it can't be easy to stay competitive in today's world of megachains like Best Buy. "We're constantly checking prices online to stay competitive," Kerri said.

Scott Houfer added that their store is really a different business model than the big box stores. Echo doesn't stock new releases at all, so they're not competing with big stores directly.

"Everything is used," he said. The prices are almost always lower because the goods are used, and the service of a small store is better, he added. Finally, Echo stocks a lot of older DVDs, games and CDs -- titles that you'd be hard pressed to find at a Best Buy or even trade-in-happy Gamestop. And because the store isn't franchised, there's total freedom and adaptability for the business. "We can do whatever we want," Kerri said, describing how the store has evolved to stay competitive and successful.

Another unique quality about Echo is its lenient return policy. Customers can return any item bought at the store within seven days, no questions asked, and will receive all but $2 back in store credit.

"It takes the pressure off of making good decisions," Kerri said, adding that it allows for extra experimentation, and encourages impulse buys.

Speaking of impulse buys, there's plenty to tempt buyers, especially when it comes to old-school video games. Rarely have I seen so many Gameboy, N64, Play Station One, Nintendo, Super Nintendo and other old console games lined up on the shelves. And since they're all used, they're all relatively inexpensive. They even sell old consoles, though the box for the NES, SNES, and Dreamcast said "Sold Out." "Most of our Nintendos are sold out right away," Scott said. "People like the simplicity."

The DVD selection is also impressive and pleasantly inexpensive. These aren't just crappy movies either; Mystic River was selling for $6, and the average price for a movie was between $6 and $10. There's a respectable selection of anime in the corner of the store, and the central area is full of old CDs, many of which are well under the iTunes standard $10. The selection for the music isn't great -- the Houfers said the quality, timeless bands like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd get sold out very quickly -- but they're priced to sell.

The store has posters and other movie collectables as well. Echo has been selling more posters since moving the store to Northfield; anyone who has browsed the wares of the bi-annual poster sale at St. Olaf would not be surprised at that.

Not interested in buying? The store can still help out. The owners said they're always looking to buy more used goods; they even posted a listing to buy used movies and games on They pay in either cash or store credit, naturally more for the latter, and will take just about anything. Echo also offers a disc repair service for $4 using a similar device as the one Rolvaag Memorial Library has (which I can assure you works like magic).

Echo is a solid addition to Division Street. You won't find much new merchandise here, and finding good, "timeless" games and movies is hit-or-miss, but it beats Target when it comes to entertainment shopping in Northfield, particularly in price. Unlike Target, it's within walking distance of campus, which makes it doubly attractive for St. Olaf and Carleton students. Northfield has long been bereft of a quality DVD and game store, particularly for old, rare or inexpensive stuff. Those days seem to be over now that Echo DVD is here.

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