Thursday, May 14, 2020

5.14.20 Bee-otch of the Day: Studio C!

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Name: The Loeks Family/Celebration Cinema/Studio C!
Age: 76
Occupation: theater chain
Last Seen: Grand Rapids
Bee-otched For: proving that subrun is no fun                                                                


I love when I'm right and the people who put me on blast are dead wrong. 

Years ago, I blasted Jerry Lewis and someone on my MySpace account dumped me. Sucks to be them, especially since he screwed over his children from previous marriages when he died. He didn't leave them on his will. On screen, he was funny and zany. Not to mention a hero to children with Muscular Dystrophy. But in real life, he was a pathetic human being. 

And ironically, Lewis lent his name to a franchise of tiny, sardine can-style cinemas back in the 1970s that specialized in second-run family fare.

Well, it's the same thing with John Loeks, the president the Grand Rapids movie chain known as Studio C!, formerly Loeks Theatres. Several years ago, I handed him the BOTD and one of his employees sent me a nasty letter. Basically put, he thought I was mean because John does so much for the people of Grand Rapids. True. But, he also has taught us a lesson that monopolies don't always work. 

You see, when I moved to GR 18 years ago, the closest theater to me was the Showcase Cinema in Cascade. I went there once to see "Barbershop" on a Saturday night. Well, it was the #1 movie that weekend and the place was anything but packed. The simple truth was that they charged the same prices as other cinemas in town. But, they lacked the modern-day amenities like stadium seating. Not long after my sole visit, Showcase was demolished for what is now Costco. Showcase's demise left Grand Rapids with three chains: Star (now AMC), Celebration/Studio C!/Loeks and Cinemark, which had a location at Rivertown Crossings. Just before I moved to the area, Woodland Mall had a second-run cinema, The Movies at Woodland Mall. However, it closed and United Artists - which had several theaters in the Grand Rapids area - abandoned the city. 

Not having a movie theater in my area kinda sucked. Driving up the dreaded Beltline just to watch a movie at Celebration North wasn't the greatest thing in the world, either. I occasionally had free passes for Star Theatres (thanks to my uncle, who worked at one), so not all things were bad. But then in 2005, the floodgates were lifted. Woodland was getting a Cinemark. 

The new, 14-screen Cinemark opened in 2005. My first movie there was "Walk The Line", starring Joaquin Phoenix as the Man in Black himself, Johnny Cash. Overall, it was my go-to theater for new movies. 

However in 2007, Loeks bought out Cinemark's Grand Rapids theaters, making Front Row Joe a distant memory. I wasn't expecting a whole lot of changes. But when I found out that Woodland wasn't going to show "The Simpsons Movie", I was disappointed. It turned out that Loeks was going to convert it to a subrun cinema. 

Back in the days before Netflix, movies were first played in a first-run cinema. Then, it would go to second-run, or subrun theaters. Usually, a subrun cinema is older and in some cases, in the ghetto. However, the Woodland 14 was only a few years old and in front of a very nice, upscale shopping mall. Celebration Woodland lowered their admission to $4 and started showing movies that were no longer showing at their other theaters. 

Granted, there was now Celebration South, which is an easier drive for me. But seriously, it sucked since Woodland's in my neighborhood. I do give Celebration some credit, though. Woodland showed both recent movies and indie films that never played at their other cinemas during their first run. It was where I saw "Christine" (no, not the Stephen King movie about the car), a movie about troubled Florida TV personality Christine Chubbuck, who shot herself to death on live television in 1974. I also saw "The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years" about the time the Fab Four was constantly on the road. 

This week, the Loekses announced that after 13 years of ownership, they have decided not to renew their lease on Celebration Woodland. They admitted that the cinema never turned a profit. WELL, DUH! As much as I loved watching a little-known film here and there, I was in the auditorium with maybe five other people tops on a Saturday afternoon. 

So, why did Woodland go subrun? Simple: Celebration didn't want to compete with themselves. When they bought the Rivertown Crossings 20 from Cinemark, they closed their legendary Studio 28 a year later in 2008. A few years later, the 20-screen cinema was demolished. Studio 28 was one of my early 'go-to' cinemas. However, since it was remodeled multiple, multiple times over the years, it was like walking through a labyrinth. If my movie was playing in their "Sci-Fi Zone" cluster, I had to ask for directions. 

In Woodland's case, they're only 10 miles from Celebration North. Simply put, they wanted to control the local market in Grand Rapids by running a near-monopoly. But, at the end of the day, it has now left the Woodland 14 lonely and abandoned, pandemic or not. Now with so many movies going online shortly after their release, a subrun cinema simply can't make money, plain and simple. 

So, what's next for the Woodland 14? I do have a prediction. Earlier this week, we dishonored Bob Goodrich, whose theater chain just announced that they're closing their theater in Cadillac for good. Just shortly after I hit the send button, it was announced that a local live theater troupe called the Footliters were in talks of buying the 102-year-old theater. On his bankruptcy documents, Goodrich stated that he was planning to sell his chain to Emagine, a luxury theater chain based out of the Detroit area. Honestly, Woodland 14 would be perfect for that chain with proper renovations. If it reopened as an Emagine post-COVID, I would definitely give it a go. I would not rule out AMC, either, though they're in talks about selling out to Amazon. 

You see, I love the Loeks because they're local and still family-owned. Not to mention the fact that they're one of the few theater chains that will take a chance on NC-17 movies. However, they're typical Grand Rapids elitists. Hell, they're even buds with "Huge" Bill Simonson. I want to PUKE when I see his commercials run in one of their cinemas. 

The reality is, is that movies are a business. And if a movie theater can't be run right, it's gonna have to close. The Loeks have proved that a 14-screen dollar house simply can't survive when you can see that same movie online for free. I've also heard that since they bought it, Celebration Woodland has fallen into disrepair. I simply hope that PREIT - Woodland's owner - can find a suitable new owner and fast.

I just hope it doesn't become a megachurch. 


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