Monday, November 2, 2015

11.2.15 Hero of the Day: Grand Traverse Cinemas

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Name: Grand Traverse Cinemas
Age: 23
Occupation: movie theatre
Last Seen: Traverse City, MI
Awarded For: bringing many years of movie enjoyment to northern Michigan


Last week, I received some sad news: the 1990s had ended.

Because of the news, the teenage side of me teared up.

The news was that my childhood movie theatre - or at least one of them - is closing up shop.

The Grand Traverse Cinemas at Grand Traverse Mall in Traverse City is closing at the end of the year. The announcement was made by a spokesperson at Carmike Cinemas, the theatre's owner. With the 14-screen Cherry Blossom Cinemas opening up soon at the new Buffalo Ridge Center - formerly the Horizon Outlet Center - Carmike will allow the Mall Cinemas' lease to expire and will move out at the end of the year.

Rumor has it that the former Mall Cinemas will be converted into retail with Dick's Sporting Goods being a likely tenant.

When the Grand Traverse Cinemas opened in March 1992, TV sets were tuned to RoseanneMurphy Brown and The Simpsons. Radio stations blared out heavy metal band Mr. Big's acoustic anthem "To Be With You" and movie goers lined up to see "Wayne's World", "My Cousin Vinny" and "The Lawnmower Man". It was 
also when the Mall itself opened for business. To the people of Traverse City, it was the most-modern mall the town had ever seen. It had three department stores - JC Penney, Target and Hudson's (which opened later in the year) - plus 100 stores and a massive food court complete with a carousel.

And oh yes, the Cinemas, which opened with eight screens and added a ninth a few years later. When it opened, it was northern Michigan's first true multiplex. Before the Mall Cinemas opened, all theatres up north only had one or two screens. The Mall Cinemas themselves replaced another twin-screener a few miles down the road, the Plaza, which was demolished to make way for a bigger parking lot at Meijer. Traverse City's two other cinemas, the Traverse Bay in Acme and the State downtown were also twins. Eventually, both were transformed into sub-run dollar houses before closing for good. The Traverse Bay is now a dinner theatre while the State was reopened by the Traverse City Film Festival in 2007 and transformed back to being a one-screener.

In 1996, the Horizon Cinemas opened at the aforementioned Outlet Center, which was struggling at the time. It overtook the Mall Cinemas as being northern Michigan's biggest cinema with 10 screens. However, most of the auditoriums were cramped and uncomfortable. It was also in the late 1990s that bigger cities such as Detroit and Grand Rapids were getting brand new cinemas complete with something Traverse City would definitely not see for another 20 years: stadium seating. Audiences complained about the Horizon and Mall Cinemas' barely-sloped floors and how hard it was for some - especially short people - to see the screen, especially if there's a taller person up front.

Then again, both theatres were owned by the George Kerasotes Corporation, aka GKC Theatres, which started after George had a feud with his brothers over union projectionists. Back in the glory days of 35 mm, GKC Theatres all seemed to have the worst projectionists of any cinema chain. Often, the film started smack dab in the middle of a preview and the vertical hold was off. Sometimes, the film itself jammed up and the show would be delayed by 10 minutes.

In 2005, GKC was sold to Carmike Cinemas. Rumor had it that part of the reason was due to the Kerasotes family being split over their banning of "Fahrenheit 9/11" at their theatres except for the Horizon. Carmike is notorious for closing aging, unprofitable theatres, so it was inevitable that in the years to come, something new would be coming to Traverse City. And boy, we were right.

The new Cherry Blossom will have 13 regular screens plus an IMAX screen that will seat over 500. The rest of the auditoriums will seat 150 to 300 people. The Cherry Blossom will also serve beer and wine and have a popcorn bar. However, when that theatre opens and the Horizon and Mall Cinemas close, Traverse City will see a decrease from 21 total screens to just 16. But with so much development going on in TC, I wouldn't be too surprised if another cinema opens in another part of town, namely Acme (I hope Joe Yuchasz isn't reading this).

In all, I'll miss the Grand Traverse Mall Cinemas, since it was my childhood movie theatre. I remember the first movie I saw there: "Encino Man" starring Brendon Fraser as a caveman learning teenage life in California, aided by Sean Astin and Pauly Shore. My favorite movie memory had to be "Jurassic Park" and the DTS bumper leading into the movie. The theatres had kick-ass sound systems, and yes, I loved that movie (still haven't seen "Jurassic World" yet). I saw plenty of flicks there before I moved to Grand Rapids full-time in 2002. My last film at the Horizon was "Fahrenheit 9/11" while my last visit to the Mall Cinema was to see Ben Stiller's "The Heartbreak Kid" in 2007.

While I'm happy that Traverse City is finally getting into the 21st century movie-wise, It's sad that they're losing the Mall Cinema. Of course, the Horizon will be converted into an organic supermarket called Lucky's, but I was thinking that the Mall Cinema could have been renovated to better suit its new sister. But, I'm wrong. It's 2015, and people don't want to go to a dated multiplex when there's stadium seating down the road. Most cinemas built between 1965 and 1995 are pure junk unless the owners do something about them. Hell, even Studio 28 here in Grand Rapids - built in 1965 as a single screener and eventually converted into a 20-screen megaplex over the years - closed a few years ago and has been demolished. According to owner John Loeks, it was because it was grandfathered too many times over the years and the neighborhood - which used to have a GM plant - became plighted.

But I do wonder about the future of Grand Traverse Mall too. True, there have been some changes over the years, but will it survive, even with a nail salon called "90's Nails"? Who knows? I hope that it doesn't end up like Cherryland Mall down the street. I hope they can learn a lesson from Woodland Mall here in Grand Rapids, which has been around for almost 50 years and is a bitch to park at on the weekends.

But in the end, nothing lasts forever. Thank you, Grand Traverse Mall Cinemas. You will be missed. Maybe the marquee will end up in a museum.  

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