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Long before the current economic downturn, music retailers had a tough time keeping their heads above water as CD sales have dropped off while downloads, many for free, have become the typical method for fans to track down their favorite tunes.

“The music industry has been changing in a huge way for a number of years now, and I’ve seen some record stores go away because they couldn’t adapt to whatever the new model is that’s gonna keep a store around,” says Eric Howarth, owner of M-Theory Music. “For us, doing the in-stores, DVD screenings, and all of that stuff has been an integral part of us trying to stay relevant. There’s a lot of ways to get music these days, so you’ve got to provide a reason to come and purchase from us and participate in the activities we get involved with.”

Howarth’s latest strategy is a dollar-for-dollar gift-card swap for store credit.

“We have a list of store cards that we’ll swap for credit: Walmart, Best Buy, Home Depot, Target, Lowe’s, and maybe Petco because we keep dog treats at the store,” he says.

The idea isn’t new. There are a number of gift-card swap sites online, but for local retailers operating on thin margins, trading store merchandise for credit at Costco is practically unheard of.

“If we had to go someplace and get light bulbs…we’re either using the cash coming in from the sales of music at the store or we’re using that gift card. It just helps drive the sales back to our store anyway. On the punkest of levels, it’s kind of a ‘fuck you’ to the big chain stores that get preferential treatment on pricing. It’s just a cool DIY, indie thing to pull off,” Howarth says.

“I guess the whole idea behind it was if we can get our customers coming in and swapping out gift cards from crappy big-box stores that are homogenizing our cities that they don’t want, we’ll give them a good M-Theory gift certificate that they’d rather use anyway. We’ll take those gift cards and go buy toilet paper or whatever stuff we’d have to go buy anyway.”

And Howarth had better stock up for the expected crowd when one half of the Two Coreys, Corey Haim, and a handful of other cast members from the movie The Lost Boys, set up for an autograph signing Friday, March 6, from 2 to 4 p.m. The appearance was set up in conjunction with the Lost Boys Reunited party at Brick By Brick, featuring G Tom Mac, who wrote the movie’s gothic anthem “Cry Little Sister.”

Also scheduled to appear are Brooke McCarter (“Paul”), Billy Wirth (“Dwayne”), and Chance Corbitt (“Laddie Thompson”) from the movie. Corey Feldman will not be at the event.

“It’s gonna be a bit of a circus,” Howarth says.

M-Theory Music is located at 915 W. Washington St. in Mission Hills.

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