Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Thursday

June 20, 2013

Michael Moore: How we built a theater for the people

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the main federation of Hollywood’s six major studios, recently posted on their web site a list of what they believe are some of the best movie theaters in the world.

And listed as No. 1 is the historic State Theatre of Traverse City, Michigan, an incredible movie palace which I restored and now run as a nonprofit theater — along with a few hundred great volunteers.

This month, we will sell our one-millionth admission ticket since we opened 5½years ago. What makes this statistic even more remarkable is that Traverse City’s year-round population here in remote northern Michigan is only 16,000 people. And mostly we show only “smaller” indie and foreign films that open nationwide on less than 200 screens.

Even with those limitations, in the 289 weeks we’ve been open, for 78 of those weeks, the State Theatre has been the No. 1 grossing theater in the country for the movie we happen to be showing. We’ve placed in the top 10 grossing cities for 171 of those weeks (the other cities on that list are usually New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Dallas, Boston, etc.).

So how in the name of trees that are right height does this happen?

Here is our basic recipe:

1. We only show really good movies. Nothing that aspires to the mediocre is shown at the State.

2. We reject the need to make a profit and, by doing so, we’ve been in the black since day one.

3. We don’t rip people off. You can see a first-run movie for $8 and $6 (kids are less). Late night on the weekend is 2 for $5. We have 25-cent kids matinees on Saturday mornings (often packed with 580 people in attendance) and 25-cent classic movie matinees on Wednesdays. As for the concessions: No $10 popcorn at our place. Popcorn is as low as $2, soda $2 and candy as low as $1. We believe everyone should be able to afford to go to the movies.

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