116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION — The summer blockbuster movie season is in full swing, with “Top Gun: Maverick” zeroing in on $156 million, shattering Memorial Day box office records nationwide.
Bruce Taylor, owner and general manager of Collins Road Theatres, 1462 Twixt Town Rd. in Marion, was in the first audience to see the Tom Cruise action-packed sequel. Taylor’s sneak peek came during a CinemaCom screening in April in Las Vegas.
“I was lucky enough to be in the very first audience in the whole world to see it, at CinemaCon, and it is fantastic,” he said. “It is literally the best movie I've seen in years and years before the pandemic.”
Taylor, 63, of Cedar Rapids, opened Collins Road Theatres on Dec. 5, 2003, and has taken only one vacation since, traveling in January to Cancun. “I figured if I was going to take my first vacation, I was going to go ahead and make it worthwhile,” he said.
Summer typically is his busiest season. But coming out of the pandemic, he has 18 employees instead of the usual 30, so he’s still having to scale back on programming. Right now, he doesn’t have enough workers to handle a children’s summer series but he’s hoping to offer a partial series later this season if staffing rebounds.
Today, he’s weighing in on the triple whammy effects of the pandemic, the 2020 derecho and film streaming.
Q: How long were you closed for the pandemic?
A: We were closed for about two months from March 17th until May 28th (2020). We had to then close down because of the derecho damage, and that was for four months and a day, so we spent more than six months (that) year, all closed down.
Q: What havoc did the derecho wreak on your building?
A: Mostly to the roof. It took the roof membrane partially off and blew over all of our HVAC units on the top. And so that allowed all the rain to come in on the seats and the carpet. And so as a result, we've got all new HVAC, which is nice because they'll support the finer filtration needed for COVID, which is not quite such a big point these days, but still nice. We got all new seats and new carpet at same time, and added on some new tile and all the video monitors and stuff like that while we were down and had some time to work on it. So we did a lot of renovations and people really like the stuff that we’ve done.
Q: Did insurance come anywhere near touching that?
A: It didn't cover all of it. … I never dreamed we’d be replacing all the carpet. That was $40,000 right there, so (insurance) came up short. I increased my insurance, and they were happy with that. And so they didn't cover all of it, and with business being off, that kind of hurt. But we also had, we had two different kinds of insurance — the property damage and also the loss of business. Between the two, we came out OK. I certainly didn't make any money off of it.
Q: (Collins Road Theatres also received federal disaster assistance funding from the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant and Paycheck Protection Program.) What difference did those funding streams make for you?
A: It was a total lifesaver. If it wasn't for that, we wouldn't be around.
Q: What steps did you take to get people back into the theaters?
A: Mostly they need to get the confidence to come back. And that's actually happening now. People have asked, are the theaters going to come back? And I think, ‘Oh, yes, they'll come back.’ Businesses has been off, but it's picking up. The new seats and renovations that I've done certainly didn't hurt at all, and people love the new seats.
But people have been still a bit gun shy. I had just a gentleman here today who said, “It’s the first time I've been in a movie three years.’ But they're coming back. And I have no doubt at all that the industry as a whole is going to rebound and everything's going to be fine. It's just a matter of timing.
This summer, I think things are going to be more or less back to normal — still a little bit maybe to be desired.
The biggest problem we've had is, beside the confidence of the patrons, the studios being gun shy about putting out their multimillion dollar products. ‘Top Gun’ is a perfect example of that. It was supposed to come out a long time ago. Even the people who did want to come back really didn't have the best choices. There were some good movies, but they didn't have the very best choices to come back to. It was kind of a chicken and an egg thing — which one's going to come back? You going to hold the movies till the customers come back? Well, the customers aren't coming until there's a movie worth watching.
But everything's coming together and I think this summer is pretty much the beginning of the end. Sounds kind of optimistic, but that's what I truly believe.
Q: So how do you make movie going attractive in this age of home streaming options?
A: We've got a better presentation, hands down. The big difference between a movie theater and streaming is the size of the screen and the presentation. I don't care how big your screen is at home, I’ve got you beat. And, of course, sound system and things like that. There's certainly a convenience to just watching the movie at home, but it's not the optimal way to watch movies, especially a movie like ‘Top Gun.’
You can follow a story on your cellphone, but you don't enjoy the movie in the same way that you would watch it on a big screen. So actually, Netflix and some of the streaming companies are really starting to have a problem.
It was fine during the pandemic, when people didn't want to get out. But people — and I might be biased — I believe that people would rather see the big presentation on the big screen. Most people.
Q: What sets you apart, as a small locally owned organization as opposed to working under the umbrella of larger corporation?
A: The first thing would obviously be our prices. We’re able to keep the prices trimmed down quite a bit better. That's one of the things people really like about us. But another thing people really like — and I'm not tooting my own horn because I'm really nothing special — but they like the owner being right here on site. I might be working at the counter selling the popcorn and stuff like that.
They like the personal connection of a locally owned business. I think that makes a big difference. … That's always been one of our biggest things.
That and real butter.
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