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Published: 2/7/2014

CULTURE SHOCK

Monroe theater owner: Let them recline

BY KIRK BAIRD
BLADE STAFF WRITER

For decades movie lovers have been trying to recreate the theater experience at home.

A Monroe movie theater is working to reverse that trend.

And it starts with comfort.

Phoenix Theatres The Mall of Monroe, 2121 N. Monroe St. in Monroe, is installing luxury leather power recliners with memory foam in all eight of its auditoriums. The push-button luxury chairs, which are replacing all of the traditional theater seats, offer full lumbar support and will recline to nearly horizontal level, as well as anything in between, and feature power-lift foot rests. And for date night, the two chairs can easily be converted into a loveseat pod by virtue of flipping up the middle armrest and drink holder.

The $400,000 upgrade is scheduled to begin after Valentine’s Day and to be completed by the beginning of March.

Cory Jacobson, owner of Michigan-based Phoenix Theatres, said local moviegoers would have to drive approximately 50 miles to find a similar movie theater experience.

“I just think that it upgrades the experience at the theater dramatically,” Jacobson said. “The trends first began in the ’90s of how many people can you fit in a room. And now it’s how many can comfortably fit in a room and make them glad they’re there and I think that’s an extraordinary improvement.”

Comfy chairs aren’t the only trend in improving the cinema experience.

From a full menu of food options and beer and wine service to call-ahead reserved seating, movie theater chains are exploring ways to compete for consumer attention and preference.

“We’re seeing a lot of innovations,” said Patrick Corcoran, vice president and chief communications officer of the National Association of Theatre Owners. “Some people want more conveniences, more comfort, and more service. These are ways to reach out to audiences that haven’t been coming.”

In truth, movie theaters have experimented with methods to attract audiences for decades. 1970s Sensurround anyone?

Beginning with Lucasfilm’s THX sound certification in 1983, a premium on cinema presentation of movies became the focal point. This led to bigger and more impressive surround-sound systems and, more recently, digital projection and the return of 3-D films. But it was in the late 1990s that stadium seating in theaters, “revolutionized things and led to an increase in attendance,” Corcoran said.

Suddenly the movie-going experience wasn’t just about improving what you see and hear but how well you can see the screen. The latest innovation takes audience comfort even further.

And while Corcoran is not ready to proclaim the comfy chairs as the next big thing at the cinema, he’s not ruling them out either.

“I don’t know if it works for all theaters or locations or will work in all auditoriums,” he said. “It’s still early, but success breeds success and if it’s successful then you’ll see more of it.”

But from Jacobson has seen, reclining chairs may be the next big thing in movie. When he studied attendance figures for theaters with the reclining chairs he found “massive growth in their business,” despite the fact that, in most cases, the theaters were losing 50 to 60 percent of their seats to accommodate the extra space needed for the recliners.

“The theaters that converted to luxury seats, the customers were waiting for the next show,” he said. “It was an enormous selling point.”

For the Monroe theater, Jacobson said he will lose 60 percent of his 1,300 seating capacity for the new chairs. And he isn’t increasing ticket or concession prices or charging a surcharge to make up the difference. “This is something everyone will have an opportunity to enjoy,” he said.

If things go well, he’ll be installing recliners in his other Michigan theaters, a 10-plex in Livonia and a four-screen theater in Wayne, before the summer. This, of course, inevitably will lead to one thing.

“I’ll have a lot of traditional theater seats for sale.”

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.



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