Leominster Entertainment Cinemas mainstay features leather recliners, other theater upgrades

LEOMINSTER – If you haven’t been to the mall movie theater recently, you’re missing out on some great updates that have taken the entire movie experience to a whole new level.

The luxurious leather recliners installed at the Entertainment Cinemas location over the past three years breathed new life into the 10-screen movie theater that has managed to stand the test of time from the pandemic, quite a feat during these trying times for moviegoers. small business owners.

“They cost more than the sofa in my house,” Easton-based Entertainment Cinemas owner Bill Hanney joked about the recliners that were priced at $600 each.

The comfortable new seats are just part of a $1 million investment Hanney has put into the theater since buying it out of bankruptcy from Loews Theaters several years ago. She said that by this time, other theaters in the region had been converted from tents, but “they’ve always had the luxury of having a real theater to work in,” with 30- to 40-foot ceilings.

“We had that volume and that theater feel to begin with.”

A young movie buff and her giant stuffed Pegasus enjoyed the newly installed comfortable leather recliners at Entertainment Cinemas in Leominster during a visit in May.  (DANIELLE RAY/SENTINEL AND COMPANY)
A young movie buff and her giant stuffed Pegasus enjoyed the newly installed comfortable leather recliners at Entertainment Cinemas in Leominster during a visit in May. (DANIELLE RAY/SENTINEL AND COMPANY)

Other updates include “clean the place” and a cafe located in the back lobby offering adult beverages, food and more, in addition to the concession stand in the main lobby.

“People thought I had rocks in my head,” Hanney said of the money he’s poured into the Leominster theater over the years. “It’s a huge investment in an industry that we don’t know how it’s going to go.”

He began installing the new reclining chairs in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, after renovating the theater with stadium seating. They had completed four or five of the theaters before the pandemic shut down in March 2020 and then “when things started to pick up a little bit, I thought I’d better wrap things up.”

“Time goes by, the industry changes, and big chairs would be the big new thing,” Hanney said. “When we renovate, we don’t just take out the old chairs. The new ones are twice as long and twice as wide as the old ones. It has been a great construction project.”

The Leominster location now rivals other theaters in the region that also feature leather recliners, including O’Neil Cinemas in Littleton, and makes the movie-going experience that much more enjoyable for patrons. Hanney said that while he considers the other individually owned theaters in Athol, Fitchburg and Gardner to be “friendly competitors,” he feels the upgrades to his theater make it the cream of the crop.

“I think we have the best location of the four,” he said, adding that having The Mall at Whitney Field and numerous fast food and other restaurants there is a huge benefit. “We went from number four in the market to number one with one bullet.”

Hanney owns a total of six movie theaters under the umbrella of Entertainment Cinemas. Two at its Cape Cod home base, locations in Falmouth and South Dennis, both of which are also undergoing renovations. He also owns one on Martha’s Vineyard, one in New Hampshire and one in Rhode Island. In addition, he owns and operates several live theater venues in New England that he said have also fortunately managed to weather the tough times of the pandemic.

Over a decade ago, Hanney took over the North Shore Music Theater in Beverly and one of the many crown jewels of his business, Theater by the Sea in Kingston, Rhode Island, will celebrate its 90th anniversary in 2023. He remembers thinking when things were rocky in 2020 and last year that when it came to that historic space specifically, “I wasn’t going to let the pandemic shut this theater down on my watch.”

But that doesn’t mean that none of its theaters were ever in danger of closing. Hanney credits a couple of his landlords “who are like family,” including Dave Gagney, who owns the building in which the Leominster theater is located, for helping keep his businesses afloat.

“When we closed, I went up to Dave and said, ‘I don’t know what to do here,’” recalls Hanney. “He said, ‘Don’t worry about it, we won’t charge you rent. The theater has been here for 40 years, we don’t want to lose it’”.

Leather recliners that have since been installed in theaters were waiting at Leominster's Entertainment Cinemas in July.  (DANIELLE RAY/SENTINEL AND COMPANY)
Leather recliners that have since been installed in theaters were waiting at Leominster’s Entertainment Cinemas in July. (DANIELLE RAY/SENTINEL AND COMPANY)

He thanked Gagney, told him it “comes from really good stock” and asked if when they finally got to reopen, he could give him a percentage of the sales. Gagney said he did tell Hanney, “Whatever it takes to keep you open.”

Hanney said that while the shutdown gave them “more time to get the seats set up,” the number of spectators hasn’t quite recovered to pre-pandemic times.

While the Leominster theater is seeing good revenue now, Hanney commented that movies going straight to broadcast while theaters were closed and remaining that way along with theatrical releases “destroyed” the film industry.

As president of Theater Owners of New England, a nonprofit organization that works with theater owners, he said he has spoken with many owners who have had no choice but to close.

“We’ve been tough to the point where a lot of it doesn’t come back,” Hanney said. “Number one, people had to find a different way to watch movies and they bought big screens to watch at home. Older people had to learn how to stream movies. Second, the film companies got away with it and became the engine. We no longer have the power. That hurt us, but not to the point of destruction. There are probably too many screens. Maybe there should be less, and they should be better.”

He did say that moviegoers seemed to realize, especially last summer when there was “all the movie madness, that it’s nice to have us around.”

“Be the best theater in town, and if you can, people will find you,” Hanney said. “And we’ve noticed that people love it, and that’s all you need.”

He’s hopeful that movie production will catch up after being “delayed” due to the pandemic and that more new movies will be released in the coming months and years instead of just streaming, which became the norm when Movie theaters closed.

“That will change throughout October and through the holidays,” Hanney said of the slate of new and highly-anticipated movies opening this month and beyond, including two potentially blockbuster sequels: “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “Avatar.” : The Way”. of the water.”

“As long as we can get past the lag period where they can make more movies, we’ll be fine.”

Plush leather recliners, a coffee area serving beer and wine, and more are part of the recent updates at Leominster's Entertainment Cinemas.  (DANIELLE RAY/SENTINEL AND COMPANY)
Plush leather recliners, a coffee area serving beer and wine, and more are part of the recent updates at Leominster’s Entertainment Cinemas. (DANIELLE RAY/SENTINEL AND COMPANY)

For now, he’s focused on what’s left of the upgrades at Leominster and said they’ll finish installing recliners in the rest of the theaters over the next few weeks.

He also pointed out the sleek new sign visible from Interstate 190, a modern digital message board used for advertising that measures six by 20 feet.

“Now the pigeons have a new place to perch,” Hanney joked.

He is a “big movie buff” himself and goes to the movies every week, usually on a Saturday night on the Cape. Where else can “people experience entertainment at a low cost” with typically two to two and a half hours of entertainment at a reasonably low cost, even for a family, he said.

“There’s nothing like watching a movie on a big screen and experiencing it all together, laughing and crying together,” Hanney said. “You can watch ‘Star Wars’ at home but it’s not the same as the movie theater experience. I can cook, but I still go to restaurants because I like to go out and you have a great experience.”

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