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Blockbuster video store closings will likely bypass Bemidji

The news that Blockbuster Inc. plans to close as many as 960 of their video and DVD rental stores nationwide has little or no effect on the local stores.

The news that Blockbuster Inc. plans to close as many as 960 of their video and DVD rental stores nationwide has little or no effect on the local stores.

That's what Kevin Seeger told the Grand Forks Herald on Thursday. He's a partner and general manager in North Central Management, a Grand Forks-based corporation that owns 15 Blockbuster franchise stores, including two in Grand Forks, as well as stores in Bemidji and Fargo.

"The announcement Blockbuster made has to do with corporate stores and has to do with their markets in the larger populated cities across the country," said Seeger, a Grand Forks native who works out of the Twin Cities.

He and his father, Jay Seeger, started their Blockbuster franchise in 1992, he said, and now employ about 150 people at the 15 stores, as well as 50 more people in a separate operation helping other franchise owners manage their business.

The 960 doomed stores all are company-owned stores, Seeger said, and would constitute about 20 percent of the 7,100 total stores Blockbuster owns and runs. There also are about 650 franchise Blockbusters, Seeger said.

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Blockbuster has been losing money in the struggling DVD rental market as rivals Netflix and Redbox have grown fast, AP reported.

James Keyes, Blockbuster's chief executive officer, said no final decisions had been made on which stores will close.

Seeger said in larger cities, such as Chicago, Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul, all the Blockbuster stores are corporate-owned. "There are 40-some Blockbuster stores in Minneapolis and St. Paul," Seeger said, adding he expects there will be fewer by the end of next year.

Industry experts say the once-mighty Blockbuster opened too many stores and now needs to shed some, especially as the movie rental business has changed so much.

Netflix, with more than 10 million subscribers, made $55 million in the first half of this year, while Blockbuster lost $15 million, AP reported. The whole idea of renting movies and games online and getting and returning them via mail has become more popular than driving down the local video store, AP reported.

Redbox, with is red kiosks renting DVDs for a buck a night, have taken business from Blockbuster, AP reported.

The result is too many of the wrong kind of stores for Blockbuster, experts say.

"There have been very few closures since 1985," Seeger said, referring to Blockbuster's beginning. "So, really what is happening is they are reducing their store count to a more appropriate level."

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Other changes are coming, too, that will compete better with Netflix and Redbox, Seeger said.

"In addition, they are rolling out Blockbuster express kiosks at grocery stores and convenience stores that will be vending movies and have the technology that will allow somebody to download products, when the devices exist in the future."

Seeger said his stores are working to stay on top and in front of the changes in movie and video game rentals. That includes "total access online," Seeger said, allowing customers to order movies and games online and return them at local stores, which take care of the returns. "I think we are really looked at as a reasonable entertainment alternative in the communities where we have stores.

The Bemidji Pioneer and Grand Forks Herald are both owned by Forum Communications Co.

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