It's been said that some folks' misfortune can be the risk-taking entrepreneur's gain. John Bloemeke and Jeremy McMinn are busy proving that adage with their emerging Golden Ticket movie theater chain now blooming in smaller cities across the nation.
They opened their first theater in Harrison last month, the only one in Arkansas.
The partners acquired what had been an eight-screen AMC theater, which closed in 2020. And, as with their other Golden Ticket holdings, they remodeled the auditoriums with new sound systems and comfy power recliners guaranteed to make the popcorn taste even better.
We all know the familiar adage from "Field of Dreams" that assures if we build it, they will come. And that's just what these men are hoping will happen in the wake of a disastrous 2020 for the movie theater industry.
John told me he entered the film business at 17 in 1993 as an employee for a local Carmike theater in Durham, N,C.
"I haven't stopped working in the industry as I continued to work for Carmike while I went to college at North Carolina State in Raleigh. During these years, I became an assistant manager, then theater manager." Afterwards, John became a supervisor for multiple locations as a district manager for that chain.
When Carmike merged with AMC a few years ago, John continued working for AMC as a director of operations, supervising over 30 locations across six states.
As 2017 rolled around, he and close friend Jeremy became partners. "We opened our first Golden Ticket location in 2017. As of our opening in Harrison, we have 11 locations with two more set to open over the next several months," he said.
I asked why choose non-metropolitan markets such as Harrison. He explained that's where the most potential for growth lies. "We are most interested in smaller markets with theaters that have been historically strong, but have not met their full potential in terms of amenities, cosmetics and experience," he said.
John has long heard smaller-market theaters have a more difficult time drawing the blockbusters and new releases. John told me that while it's still a consideration, it's not as much of an issue today. "Nowadays we are all on a relatively even playing field," he said.
"No matter who operates the theater, the difficulty lies with smaller markets and the number of prints of a film a studio wants to distribute. Obviously the larger markets will be served first. That being said, we still won't have much trouble playing most of the larger Hollywood films in Harrison."
Because I occasionally like to write about films that move me, I also was anxious to experience John's creation after more than a year away from the theater. The changes and recliners were indeed impressive and the film "Quiet Place II" was significantly improved over the initial offering.
So what kinds of films will they seek to offer at their growing theater empire? "We will play what the public demands," he said. "Obviously we need to also make sure there is a strong mix of films to appeal to everyone: Family films, scary films, drama, musicals ... you name it."
With the Harrison theater dated in its furnishings and approach, John said refurbishing has taken considerable expense and effort. "We completely cosmetically transformed the theater. Additionally, we spent a great deal of time and money upgrading the seating to luxury recliners while improving the projection and sound.
"Later this fall, we will be unveiling a retro arcade-lounge concept in a space adjacent to the lobby. At that time, you will see a substantial increase in our food and beverage offerings," he said.
Does Golden Ticket have plans to acquire other theaters in Arkansas? "You never know what we will announce in the coming months. Currently, we have 13 locations in nine states: North Carolina, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, Kentucky, Mississippi and Arkansas," John said.
The movie business in many ways is like others that rely on public support, he said. "A theater, like any other business, needs to evolve. As the home theater experience has improved, we need to offer an even better experience.
"This includes improved seating, sight and sound and attractive food offerings. Our industry has done an amazing job, historically, of evolving. You've seen stadium seating introduced in the '90s, digital projection in the 2000s and now luxury seating and amazing food offerings."
I wondered if the effort he and his partner have put forth in restoring Harrison's theater is fairly typical of their business approach. "Absolutely. As I mentioned, the Harrison theater needed evolution to a more modern movie-going experience. This is the way we approach all of our new acquisitions."
Harrison's dated theater nonetheless proved financially successful historically. If it could be successful in its less-than-ideal condition when they acquired it, John and Jeremy believe, their many improvements will provide an experience designed to attract more patrons, even from surrounding markets.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at email@example.com.