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Published August 23 2013

Losing an entertainment icon: Fargo Blockbuster store going out of business

Fargo-Moorhead is losing an entertainment icon and perhaps a piece of nostalgia for some Generation Xers.

The Blockbuster video store at the Northport Shopping Center in Fargo is closing its doors.

“A couple of generations grew up with Blockbuster. That was their source for entertainment,” said Kevin Seeger, managing partner for Grand Forks-based North Central Management Group, which is the franchisee for Blockbuster in the FM area.

The store’s going-out-of business sale has already begun. Seeger said the store will be closed by mid-September, sooner if everything goes before then.

From a large gumball machine to display fixtures to black, plastic DVD cases and, of course, movies, they’re selling the store contents down to the floor.

Seeger said falling revenues led to the store’s closure.At one time, Fargo had two Blockbuster locations, the second on 13th Avenue. That location closed in 2011 because of “declining store performance and lease issues,” Seeger said.

“There’s a lot of competition these days for the entertainment dollar,” Seeger said.

Brick-and-mortar video rental stores have been on the decline for a number of years, as users have taken advantage of other options for accessing movies such as digital video streaming, DVD-vending kiosks and mail-order services, said Greg Carlson, director of film studies and media activities at Concordia College and vice president of the Fargo Theatre board.

Video game rentals at brick-and-mortar stores also have dropped as people have moved to alternate means of getting games such as a iPad apps, Seeger said, though these rentals have not fallen off as much as movie rentals.

Netflix and Redbox have come on strong in recent years. Netflix, which provides movies via both internet streaming and traditional mail, said it gained 630,000 U.S. streaming subscribers in the quarter that ended June 30, and the company finished the quarter with 28.6 million paid domestic customers, according to the Wall Street Journal. The mail-order side of Netflix continues to shrink, according to the article.

Redbox, the movie and game kiosk giant, rented its 3 billionth disc in the U.S. in July. Along with movies, Redbox also rents video games.

Nationally, Blockbuster has felt the bite of the trend away from the brick-and-mortar shops. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2010, out of which DISH Network Corp. purchased the company in 2011.

The trend in the larger market has been reflected here in the FM area, as well, as Blockbuster joins names like Hollywood Video and Take 2 Video on the list of video stores that have come and gone.

“It seems to me that within the next decade or less, that physical media will almost disappear, that people will just use their iPads and their tablets and their home computers and their home theaters that are hooked up to devices like Apple TVs or Roku Players,” he said.

Carlson does add that the media landscape could change in ways that would breathe life into physical media again. As vinyl records made a comeback, a similar dynamic could happen with other media types, Carlson said.

But not everyone has ridden off into the sunset. Video Vault, a locally-owned store in Shoppes at Osgood on 45th Street South in Fargo, has been around since 2008.

Audrey Aberle, part owner of store, says there are some customers who want the personal touch they get in a real shop. She believes that the “great customer service” they offer is an important reason their patrons come to Video Vault.

She says the business isn’t as profitable as it once was, but she doesn’t see her store going away anytime soon. As to whether it will be around in 10 years, Aberle says, “That long of a forecast, I’m not sure. I can definitely guarantee another three to five years.”

It’s a business Aberle enjoys.

“It’s great to be able to watch movies all the time,” she said. “Best job in the world.”

Seeger says the closure of the Blockbuster store, which opened its doors in 1996, is sad and that “a lot of thought” went into the decision. He said they have several long-term employees that we will “dearly miss.”

One of those is area/store manager Sheri Gustafson, who’s been with the company more than 17 years. It’s a long time to be with one company.

“Part of it was the enjoyment of the job and the people I worked with and the customers, but also we felt that the company took care of us and appreciated what we did,” she said.

Gustafson says she’ll miss the customers.

“I’ve watched a lot of them grow up, their families grow,” she said. “Being here for the length of time I have, I’ve had that opportunity to develop those relationships with those families.”

And she says the customers “have told us how much they’ve appreciated this business being here.”

Gustafson did have the opportunity to stay with the company, but not working in Fargo.

At one time, NCMG had 15 Blockbuster stores. The company now has two Blockbuster stores, one in Bemidji and another in Grand Forks.

But the Blockbuster brand isn’t going away with the close of the Northport store, and North Central Management Group remains involved with it. In the past three years, they’ve converted their NCMG into a satellite delivery company operating under the name Satellite Systems, Seeger said. Customers can add Blockbuster@Home as part of their DISH Network package. Seeger said members of the Northport Blockbuster store can get a discount and $50 rebate on Blockbuster@Home. NCMG will continue to do business in the area through Satellite Systems.

Seeger is optimistic about Blockbuster’s future. He expects the Blockbuster brand to be a force in personal entertainment delivery. Blockbuster provides streaming video on computers and mobile devices, as well as discs by mail. Seeger looks for the number of outlets through which Blockbuster is available to expand.

“The Blockbuster brand has been a wonderful experience to be part of,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734