Movie Theater Magic
With Savvy Marketing and Dedication to Community, a Dynamic Business Team Breathes New Life into Leitersburg Cinemas.
by Charissa Beeler Stanton
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Driving past the movie theater on Leitersburg Pike, the clean new façade and bold garnet palette is eye catching among the fields. Stepping through the glass doors, the fresh color is carried over on dramatic accent walls, which set off modern, multipaneled wall art showcasing the original movie marquee. The updated snack bar is faced in corrugated metal panels, a design element that has tastefully replaced the old red carpeting that previously covered the lower portion of the lobby walls. Updated seating — including sleek leather recliners for the VIP theater’s “Dinner & A Movie” nights — offers moviegoers a comfy viewing experience.
One might be tempted to brush off the improvements as merely cosmetic. The building has, after all, been through several wardrobe changes over the past 10 years as management has changed, leaving the public to wonder if subsequent sequels will quickly vanish from the screen. But the latest changes signal the beginning of a blockbuster next act. Under a new business venture — Leitersburg Cinemas, LLC — Rich Daughtridge and Dave Schleigh are breathing new life into the theater, backed by a powerful mix of marketing know-how, dedication to community and willingness to listen to patrons. “Leitersburg is the theater that we went to growing up,” says Dave. “It used to be the staple theater. We all hung out there and went to movies. To be part of a project like that and revive it seemed like a really neat opportunity.”
‘Open Under Construction’
More than five years ago, Rich and Dave joined forces to create High Rock Studios, a venture that has flourished to become an area leader in marketing, design and web development. In reviving Leitersburg Cinemas, the pair have embarked on their most challenging journey yet. The building and land, owned by Ridenour 1994 Family LLP, were put up for auction in March of 2009, but no one made the minimum bid. The last operator, Diamond Cinemas, shut the theater’s doors in October of 2009.
Two and a half years ago, LifeHouse Church East began leasing Leitersburg Cinemas for two Sunday morning services and at one point considered purchasing the building. “They didn’t bid during the auction, but we started having a ‘what if’ conversation about the church cooperating with a business that was here that wanted to turn around Leitersburg Cinemas aesthetically, inside and out,” Rich says. “There were two organizations that if they came together, could enhance the facility again to make it a nice movie theater and a nice place to be on Sunday morning for church.” Rich and Dave made the decision to become that other organization in the equation, and formed Leitersburg Cinemas, LLC.
The relationship so far has resulted in multiple aesthetic improvements, but Rich and Dave are quick to admit that Leitersburg Cinemas is a work in progress. “At this point, we’re just going to chip away at improvements over a 12 to 18 month period,” Rich says. “Now the church meets here in a nicer facility, and we’re operating. We’re trying to do all the little things right and say we’re open ‘under construction’ to make sure everyone knows we’re not done.”
Cooler, Hipper, Cheaper
As if the challenges the property itself presented weren’t difficult enough, the public’s perception of Leitersburg Cinemas as a revolving door theater that keeps opening and closing presented another hurdle. “Luckily, we own and operate High Rock Studios, so we think we know a little about branding,” Rich says with a smile. “Our goal is for everything we produce to be high quality to get the community to understand that Leitersburg Cinemas is getting nicer. We’re not a big corporate giant — Dave and I have sacrificed our family time and poured our guts into this place. We also could not have done it without friends, family and volunteers who came out to help... we’re so grateful for them! We’re locally owned, chipping away at the problems, and we think we’re cooler and hipper and a little bit cheaper — but some of our chairs aren’t nice yet.”
The theater is open, and there are already some special incentives to enhance the brand and give back to the community. The theater recently launched a frequent movie card fund-raiser, which allows nonprofits, schools, groups, sports teams and others to register and pass out frequent movie cards imprinted with the name of the organization. The organization earns $1 every time someone goes to a movie and uses the card. Moviegoers benefit, too — they receive free popcorn on their fifth visit and a free movie when their card is filled. “It has always been our vision to impact the community and offer affordable entertainment for residents,” Rich says. “This program offers the best of both worlds — and it’s grass-roots marketing.”
“Dinner & A Movie” nights are yet another example of inventive entertainment. Guests enjoy live music in the lobby before going into one of two theaters outfitted with luxurious leather recliners. Local restaurants ranging from Hempen Hill BBQ to Nick’s Airport Inn cater the meal, which is served on a table that fastens to the recliner. Another new feature — Retro Nights — offers screenings of classics ranging from “The Goonies” to “Miracle on 34th Street.”
The movie theater industry has been a completely new experience for both Rich and Dave, who admit they didn’t know much about popcorn and candy and had to jump in head first to learn about movie schedules. Fortunately, Leitersburg Cinemas, LLC has been able to hire several individuals who are not only familiar with the operation, but have worked at the theater in the past. Jessica Rea, the new general manager, worked at the theater for five years, moving her way up from the snack bar to operations manager. Jessica is excited about the chance to help restore Leitersburg Cinemas to its former glory. “I’ve loved this place for so long and have invested so much physically, emotionally and professionally,” she says. “This is an amazing opportunity, and I wanted to be a part of it. I want to be able to restore that sense of movie theater experience.”
With the right people in place to oversee day-to-day operations at the cinemas, Rich and Dave are able to devote their time to working on the business instead of in the business. “We want to redefine affordable entertainment for the region,” says Rich. “I believe in the community, and we want people to be able to come out and enjoy movies and have fun — and hopefully leave with a good experience so they’ll come back again.”
20145 Leitersburg Pike, Hagerstown
Movie Hotline: 240-329-2093
Box Office: 240-329-2062
Dinner & A Movie
$20–$40 per person
Advanced ticket purchase is required before 10 a.m. on the day of the movie.
$10 per child
Includes movie ticket, Fun Pack (popcorn, drink and snack) and use of birthday area after movie for one hour.
Seating for up to 425 and smaller meeting spaces for up to 30 with leather recliners.
Great for seminars, training, concerts and team building.
A Little Help from Their Friends
Leitersburg Cinemas Harnesses the Power of Facebook to Reach Movie Fans.
Social media savvy professionals Rich Daughtridge and Dave Schleigh knew that Facebook was going to be a major platform for them when they formed Leitersburg Cinemas, LLC. Armed with the knowledge that their demographic was 14- to 19-year-olds, they were well aware that Facebook is the way to reach teens without spending a ton of money on advertising. They launched the Leitersburg Cinemas’ Facebook page well before the theater re-opened, and it has more than 2,600 fans as of press time.
“It’s been a good tool to get feedback from our customers,” Dave says. “A lot of it has been positive, but some of it has been negative. Whenever we have anything negative we definitely address it. We know we have a lot of work to do but when we get feedback, we address it and let them know that we’re still working on things. If we weren’t tapping into Facebook and Twitter, it would be a one-sided discussion instead of communicating with the folks who are coming out and spending money.”
Rich adds that Facebook is a great way to let fans know about movies and upcoming movie trailers. There have even been polls concerning what kind of candy the theater should sell in the snack bar. Sometimes there’s even a secret word posted on the Facebook page that moviegoers can use to get a free popcorn (hint, hint).