The largest Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in the nation celebrated its first-year run in Springfield on June 26. In typical Alamo fashion, there was a “blazing big bash” with movie parties, live music, giveaway contests – oh, and franchise owners John Martin and Marc Evans dressed incognito in Old West saloon gear.
“Alamo does a magic trick. It makes people happy to spend their money,” says Jason Norman-Hodges, an Alamo regular this past year.
The feature film that night was “Blazing Saddles.” In a sense, the anniversary costumes worn by Martin and Evans are reflective of their pursuit of the Springfield market. It was unknown territory, having never visited until they discovered the long-running Campbell 16 Cine was available. Wehrenberg Theatres announced it was closing the venue in mid-2016, and the Alamo business partners purchased flights to the Ozarks to check out the market.
“I’m glad they decided to take a chance on Springfield before St. Louis,” says Jennifer Johnmeyer, the Alamo’s creative manager since October 2017. “It’s exceeding their wildest expectations.”
Tickets sold since the June 19, 2017, opening reached 500,700, according to Alamo Drafthouse Springfield officials.
Norman-Hodges is responsible for well more than a few of those tickets. He says he’s not sure of his Alamo Drafthouse movie budget.
“I’m not even comfortable allowing myself to know,” Norman-Hodges says. “I call this my middle-age crisis.”
A business analyst for telecommunications firm TTEC, Norman-Hodges recognizes Alamo’s fun atmosphere is all about business.
“Everything they do is based on a genuine love of cinema,” he says. “It really comes through in their business.”
Martin is a Hollywood veteran, having worked in production and at studios in Los Angeles for a decade before connecting with Alamo Drafthouse, which started in his hometown of Austin, Texas. He’s also corporate partner in the chain, which operates 23 theaters around the country, according to its website, and he ran the company as CEO for seven years until 2010.
Johnmeyer says he and Evans are closing in on the St. Louis market, and they’re scouting Georgia and the Carolinas.
“There will be one opening in St. Louis,” she says. “Springfield is doing very well.”
At 55,000 square feet and 14 screens, Johnmeyer says Alamo Drafthouse Springfield makes a difficult comparison to the corporate theaters.
Martin had projected annual sales to exceed $10 million, during an interview prior to opening in May 2017 as one of Springfield Business Journal’s 12 People You Need to Know. The local operators declined to disclose the first year’s sales figure.
Based on regular ticket prices ranging between $8.75 and $10.75 apiece, box-office sales the first 12 months would approach $5 million. But it only represents about 40 percent of Alamo Drafthouse Springfield sales, with the remainder split between private rentals and restaurant business.
Food is sold in the theaters, as well as The Backlot bar and grill.
“It’s a separate restaurant,” Johnmeyer says. “You don’t have to see a movie to get a meal and drink.”
Private parties can reserve media rooms for watching movies of choice and playing video games.
Easter Law Firm staff members rented the space earlier this month to say farewell to a colleague. Office Manager Julie Finley set up the party with a special theme.
“Allison is leaving for law school. Her very favorite movie is ‘Clue,’” Finley says. “We decided to do this as her going away party.”
Johnmeyer says the weekly rate is $25 for two hours reserved.
Finley’s no stranger to Alamo. She’s in the film club, along with Norman-Hodges and 300 others.
They meet monthly to watch special screenings and have post-viewing discussions.
“It’s a place for movie nerds to have a place to talk without feeling judged for being a movie nerd,” Finley says.
Recent screenings were 1983’s “Videodrome” and the 2016 film, “Women Who Kill,” which included a visit by writer/director Ingrid Jungermann, who also did a Q&A with club members.
“It’s kind of a big deal to have the director on-site,” Norman-Hodges says. “Most people actually liked her better than the film.”
Johnmeyer says the highest-performing movie so far at Alamo Drafthouse Springfield is “Avengers: Infinity War.” Springfield audiences flock to anything by Marvel, she says.
The other end of the spectrum was “Friend Request,” and she notes two that didn’t meet expectations were “Solo” and “A Wrinkle in Time.”
“We love horror movies here,” she says of another popular genre. “Those seem to do very well. We have a huge October planned.”
Box-office revenue in North America dipped slightly last year to $11.07 billion from $11.38 billion in 2016, which according to Statista.com was the highest-grossing year on record. Motion Picture Association of America data show the number of tickets sold, however, has held steady in recent years at 1.2 billion-1.3 billion admissions.
“People are reawakening to the idea you’re not just leaving your house, but you’re leaving to have an experience,” Johnmeyer says. “It’s more unique than you were able to have even 10 years ago.”
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