By Ernie Over, managing editor, County10.com
(Riverton, Wyo.) – The Acme, Gem and Grand Theaters in Fremont County are now all under new, but familiar, ownership. The changeover to Barry Cinemas, Inc., actually began a year ago when Adam and Amanda Barry took ownership of the Grand Theater in Lander. The couple assumed ownership of the Acme and Gem in Riverton in June. They bought the theaters from longtime owners Darrell and Robin Gabel. The Grand and Acme have one screen each, the Gem has four screens.
Adam Barry began working at the Grand Theater in his hometown of Lander when he was only 15 and he has been associated with the theater ever since, excepting that period of time when he was away at college in Colorado and was working at a cinema in the Denver area. “It’s kinda funny, but the manager there knew the Gabels from when they were in Arizona; I heard through him that they were needing a manager in Riverton,” he said. “I looked around and decided that I loved my theater job and now here I am.”
Since the ownership changeover began, moviegoers may have noticed some subtle changes in the operation of the three theaters. There are more first run movies in Lander, for instance, and a new digital point-of-sale system (cash registers) now accepts credit cards. In fact, Barry uses the digital system to program the automated projection systems for each theater and the system simultaneously updates the theater’s web site so current movie information is always accurate.
“Robin and Darrell put a lot of effort into the digital conversion of each theater screen for the last couple of years before I took over, and that was a great help,” he said. “So now we get our movies and previews and such on hard drives, no more scratchy or jittery film. Every showing of a movie is like the first time it was showed, and the digital images are much sharper than 35 mm film. With the 5.1 surround sound system upgrade we did, watching a movie is now pretty awesome.”
The change to automated digital projection systems also meant the end of a storied position in the theaters, that of the projectionist. “Now I just download the movie onto our servers and add the previews and program it and when the movie is supposed to start, it starts,” he said. “What used to take four to six hours now only takes an hour or so. Although a few jobs at the theaters were lost with the changeover, Barry said he moved some employees to behind the concession counter to boost customer service. “Our goal is to serve each customer in a minute or less, so we have two stations, we pop all our popcorn fresh, we serve Pepsi soft drink products and theater candy and we offer special topping flavors for the popcorn and even nachos.”
Barry said said a majority of each ticket price goes to the studio that made the picture. “Our take usually only runs between 10 and 30 percent of the price, and it varies with the age of the film and such, so it’s hard to make a profit in this business. About the only thing I can control are labor and concession costs,” he said.
Despite converting all the screens to digital projection, something he said that cost nearly $100,000 per screen, “we’ve held the line on ticket and concession prices, which some people think are too high, but visitors from bigger areas are surprised our prices are so low,” he said. “I want to keep the prices reasonable because I don’t want to exclude anyone from coming to see a movie.” He said that was one reason to beef up the customer service end of the business, that was something he could control. “By running two registers (in Riverton) we can get people through faster and improve their overall movie experience.”
Barry said he and his wife have worked hard over the past year to instill new attitudes in their theatre staff. “We want clean theaters and good customer service, and we’re starting to get good feedback, especially in Lander.”
He said having only one screen in Lander makes it harder to schedule movies there, so he’s resorted to double features with family style films in the early shows and other themes in the later show. “We can’t get as many first run movies in Lander because of just the one screen so we have to choose the movies wisely, and we work with our movie scheduler quite closely on that. Sometimes we don’t know if we’ll get the movies we want if urban areas opt to show a title on more screens. We’re last in the pecking order so sometimes we have to take what’s available. So in Lander we’ll have Batman and Snow White,” for example.
Barry also said he monitors the Cinema’s Facebook page and reads customer feedback. “Their comments are important and we pay attention to them.”
On the web: http://www.barrycinemas.com/