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Media Play will open its fifth area store on Walden Avenue in Cheektowaga Friday, marking expansion in a region the company calls it's third-best market nationwide.

Musicland Stores, the corporation that operates Media Play, Sam Goody, Suncoast Motion Picture Co., and On-Cue stores, said that following Salt Lake City and Columbus, Ohio, Buffalo ranks as its most profitable market.

"Our average store makes $7.5 million in volume each year, but Buffalo is always quite a bit better than that," said Jack Eugster, chairman and CEO of Musicland. "They're third in profitability and around third or fourth in total sales."

There are 69 Media Play stores nationwide that operate in major and mid-sized markets such as Detroit, Denver, and Atlanta. In Buffalo, Media Play has targeted what it calls the "five key retail areas," which are centered around area malls.

Four Media Play stores currently operate in close proximity to the McKinley Mall, Boulevard Mall, Eastern Hills Mall and Niagara Falls shopping outlets. The new store at 2150 Walden Ave. "put us in Buffalo's five historically strong retail centers," Eugster said.

While Eugster called all of his Buffalo-area stores better-than-average in performance, he said that the store near the McKinley Mall is, by a slight margin, the area's most profitable location.

Media Play markets itself as a full-media, one-stop store. With an average inventory of about 140,000 units, the stores sell books, music, video games, computer software, electronics, apparel, and posters.

The store has won over the Buffalo-area market because of the store's "good deals," Eugster said, referring to 10 percent discounts on all books, discounts on New York Time's bestsellers, and sales on Billboard Magazine's top 15 CDs.

"Buffalo's a place where people work hard, are hearty in the snow, and are frugal," he said. "We do good business because discounts and one-stop shopping are attractive."

Musicland, Media Play's parent company and the biggest U.S. retailer of music and videos, operates 1,325 stores nationally.

In 1997, the Minnesota-based company was on the verge of bankruptcy following tough competition from Best Buy Co. and Wal-Mart.

But second-quarter profits this year showed a $1.5 million net income after aggressive efforts to enter the online retail market.

Musicland also credits the teen-aged market for buying digital video disks (DVDs) by bands like the Backstreet Boys and Ricky Martin in numbers that exceeded second-quarter forecasts.

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