Movieland makes downtown Schenectady debut

An excerpt from Schenectady Gazette May 18, 2007
By: Kathleen Moore, Gazette Reporter
Lights, camera, (popcorn,pizza,) action!
Movieland makes downtown debut

It’s been five years since Schenectady was promised a downtown movie theater. But when the moment finally arrived on Thursday morning, what locals really seemed to want was a taste of popcorn.

Metroplex Development Authority Chairman Ray Gillen – who hammered out the deal that finally brought a viable theater here – had to shout to hush the excited crowd before Thursday’s grand opening of Movieland on State Street.

But Bow Tie Cinema partner Ben Moss grinned as developers, construction workers, residents and business owners jockeyed for a space by the popcorn counter instead of listening to speeches.

“It’s real butter,” he told them adding that the popcorn recipe is a family secret.

He is the fourth in the family to manage the company, which is jointly operated by his father, Charley.

As new employees handed out bags of popcorn to everyone in sight, Ben Moss said his family calls Bowtie the “anti-mall cinema.” Real butter is just one of the tricks. Among the others: Bow Tie Cinemas won’t play advertisements on its screens, although it will show movie previews.

“Bow Tie Cinema is committed to returning style and elegance to the movie experience,” Moss said. “Going to large, impersonal and busy multiplex is not pleasing.”

So they spent money on frills, from the tiles in the lobby to the Memory Foam seats and armrests in the theaters. The entire building, including the office space above, cost $13.3 million and was supported by a $4 million Metroplex loan and $750,000 facade grant.

With costs like that, it might be hard to believe that the company is giving up the potential revenue from showing advertisements on the big screen.

The decision cost them money, Charley Moss said, but he thinks customers prefer a blank screen over being bombarded with surround-sound ads.

“It is a loss of revenue. We think building up customer loyalty and treating them in a manner that makes it comfortable for them to come makes up for it,” he said.

Movieland has several unusual features, even in comparison to the popular multiplex in Crossgates Mall.

Like Regal Cinemas at Crossgates, Bow Tie will offer a customer loyalty card. But Bow Tie added a twist. In addition to earning points toward free concessions, moviegoers may also get to use their points at local businesses, including Villa Italia.

The concession stand also doesn’t look like your typical popcorn station. Along with the usual cinema fare, workers are selling pizza, hot dogs, chicken wings and mozzarella sticks.

Once the theater’s liquor license is issued, they will also sell wine and beer. For now, there’s Starbucks frappuccinos as well as soda and water.

The food can be taken into the theaters, but alcohol must stay in the café area.

Past the Café is a large room, which is already booked with 16 Birthday parties this weekend.

With the pre-sales like that, Movieland employees are bracing for a huge crowd, but they’ve already gotten some experience. The crew of 28 new employees ran the cinema Wednesday night when 400 construction workers and their families were treated to a showing of “Spider-Man 3” in thanks for their work on the building.

They also got to handle a house full of children. The South Colonie Central School District rented the entire cinema on Wednesday for a showing of “Shrek the Third.”

They expected Thursday night to be even busier. At noon, customers were already trying to buy tickets to the first public shows, which started at 10 p.m.

They had to be turned away; the box office didn’t officially open until 9 p.m. But no one seemed upset by the wait. Instead they walked through the cinema, admiring the design.

“It’s beautiful!” Patrice Davis said as she pivoted to get a good look at the entire lobby. “Look at it! It’s beautiful, it’s clean, it’s different.”

She and many others said they would never go to Crosgates Mall movies again.

“We take a cab there. A cab is like $30,” said Latrice Parker, who lives a few blocks away from Movieland. “We can walk down here and we will.”

It is at State Street and Broadway across from the Department of Transportation regional headquarters.

Julie Mcdonnel, a Niskayuna resident who works at the county office building, also stopped by on her lunch break.

“I can’t wait. I’m very excited,” she said. “I hate going all the way to Crossgates. I’m looking forward to watching movies in my own backyard.”

Of course, there are two theaters in her backyard already: Loews at Rotterdam Square mall and Scotia Cinema on Mohawk Avenue. But Scotia, which has one screen, shows second-run movies. Loews has six screens but does not open for matinees on weekends during the school year. Movieland will open between 10 a.m. and noon everyday.

The matinees and Movieland’s “real food” won over movie lover and popcorn hater Kateri Cesagrande, a 24-year-old Schenectady County Community College student from Glenville.

“This is exactly what I need,” she said. “Rotterdam doesn’t have matinees. And I hate popcorn and soda. I’d buy a slice of pizza. It’s so good they’re going to have real food.

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