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Best Buy debuts new 'Connected Store' in Santa Rosa


Best Buy hopes to make its stores an experience, not just a big box.

The struggling electronics retailer, which is trying to reinvent itself as customers change their shopping habits, picked Santa Rosa to debut in Northern California its latest store concept.

The CD and DVD aisles have been reduced to half their original size, a reflection of the fact that more and more people download music and movies over the Internet instead of buying them at the store.

Throughout the store are "experience centers" where customers can try out Apple TV, play "Angry Birds" on a Roku, or see how a wearable camcorder made by GoPro can capture their next surfing trip in video.

"There's a lot more of these interactive displays that show exactly what the products do," said Chas Stanley, the store's general manager. "Without being able to touch, see and take pictures, without being able to listen to the speakers, you're not really able to experience them."

The updates reflect the changing nature of how far technology reaches into our lives, including the way we shop. People who want the latest gadgets now need a reason to get up from their computers and drive to a big-box store across town, rather than purchasing an item in just a few clicks on a website, and Best Buy is trying to give them more reasons to make the trip.

The sparkling blue tiles that line the floor of the newly remodeled Santa Rosa store are a flashy contrast to the troubled times Best Buy is facing.

Profits fell 25 percent in the first quarter, the company announced Tuesday. Revenues reached $11.6 billion, up 2 percent from a year ago, aided by an extra week in the reporting period.

The mixed news followed months of drama, starting with the company's announcement in March that it would close 50 stores and peaking when former CEO Brian Dunn resigned in scandal after the company launched an investigation about his personal conduct.

The Santa Rosa store not only survived the restructuring, but now has a new look. Though it never closed during construction, the store officially re-opens Saturday as Northern California's first Best Buy store with the "Connected Store" format.

The big-box store that once spanned 50,000 square feet slimmed down to about 40,000 square feet, Stanley said.

Two sister companies — Pacific Sales, which sells high-end stoves and appliances, and Magnolia Home Theater — are now located inside the Santa Rosa Avenue store.

Hairstylist Nicole Lane, 30, of Petaluma, perused smartphones at one of the store's new interactive display cases, and was considering buying a cell phone for her 10-year-old son.

"I like to look at what I buy. I've shopped on the Internet before, and sometimes it comes to your house and it's not quite what it looked like," Lane said.

Near the store's front entrance is a new station where customers can pick up items they ordered online, and the "Geek Squad" section was expanded to enable customers to sit with technicians.

The new store has a staff of about 150, up from 130 before the renovation, Stanley said.

"You can really pin things down on the Internet, but it's still nice to come into the store where you can see it all," said Daniel Hoy, 71, a retired real estate broker who shopped for a camera.