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Restaurants, retailers benefit from traffic boost

Movie theaters enhancing economic development efforts

When it comes to movie theaters these days, bigger is better. Small one- or two-screen theaters have gone the way of drive-in movie theaters, and the mega-theaters that have replaced them attract so many movie buffs that there is a significant impact on surrounding businesses.

Cinemark, one of the largest motion picture companies in the country with 2,535 screens in 32 states, has built two new large stadium-style theaters in Mississippi including a 17-screen theater in Pearl, and the recently opened 16-screen theater at the Crossroads Shopping Center in Gulfport. United Artists (UA)’s stadium-style theaters include those in Clinton, Flowood and Ridgeland. Imperial Palace has a stadium-style theater in Biloxi.

The large, state-of-the-art theaters please not only movie goers who enjoy comfortable seating and views that aren’t blocked by the person sitting in front of you, but also the surrounding businesses that feed off the movie traffic.

“The theater has had a real impact in the development of the areas around it, and Clinton as a whole,” says Rita Anderson, president of the Clinton Chamber of Commerce. “I’m sure there is a spillover into restaurants and other businesses in the area. At least three new restaurants have located on the new street where the theater is located, and it has also spawned other development all around it. And, from what I have heard, the theater is not just attracting people from Clinton but from the rest of the metropolitan area. People are choosing this as the place they want to go to see movies.”

The area around Tinseltown in Pearl has also seen a great deal of commercial development activity since the theater opened. New restaurants include McDonalds, Popeyes, Schlotzky’s Deli, O’Charleys, and Cracker Barrel. A Ryan’s Steakhouse is under construction. Two motels have also been built in the area, and more retail activity is in the works and expected to be announced soon.

Tom Burt, executive director of the Pearl Chamber of Commerce, said there is no doubt that the theater has stimulated local development.

“I’d say that we get as many people from out of Pearl as we get from in Pearl,” Burt said. “Of course, when they come to go to a movie they have a tendency to shop and eat in Pearl, as well. So it is definitely a drawing card.”

Most of the large theaters in Mississippi are located next to major highways, and the easy access is an important part of the marketing strategy. On the Coast, where rapid population increases have led to more problems with traffic congestion, the easy access of the Cinemark Theater at Crossroads has made it a popular choice over other theaters in more congested areas.

The 62,000-square-foot theater at Crossroads is the 25th in the chain that is based in Plano, Texas. Tickets at Cinemark Theaters average $6.50, a dollar more than the average at other theaters. But the small extra cost doesn’t seem to be discouraging heavy traffic.

“It is not cheap to build these theaters,” says Brynn Joachim, commercial development manager for the Harrison County Development Commission. “They are counting on people enjoying the experience of the comfortable seating, and on spending more money in the restaurant/snack bar that is there. If people spend more than in a traditional theater, it helps them recoup more of their investment.”

Joachim said having a movie theater near a shopping mall doesn’t always translate into additional retail revenue for nearby merchants. She compares it to adding another store to a mall. The influence the new store has on attracting additional shoppers depends on eye appeal and marketing strategy.

To be successful, movie theaters have to stand out from the crowd. “And I think Cinemark has been very successful with that,” Joachim said. “Any time you have a new type of entertainment product like the Cinemark Theaters, it is naturally going to draw people from a larger radius. I think the combination of the shopping outlets at Crossroads Shopping Center and the Cinemark Theater will work well. Nationally movie cinemas and retail traditionally work well together, and usually it increases the frequency of shopping visits to retailers that are in close proximity to a cinema.”

Cinemas located within a shopping mall so that theater visitors have to enter the theater from inside the mall generate two to three times more retail visits that cinemas that are self-standing. But Joachim expects that even through Crossroads is not an enclosed mall, many people who come to see a movie will also be likely to make multiple other stops at the retail stores located in the area.

Joachim said what will really make the difference in how well the theater and retail outlets complement each other will be if a movie schedule is developed that has shows starting every hour or half-hour. That way shoppers won’t have to make sure they make the 7 p.m. show. They’ll know they can arrive at 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m., 8 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. and still make the show.

“It they develop that kind of schedule, it will differentiate them from any other cinema on the Coast,” Joachim predicts. “They will have more visitors, and as they have more visitors, so will Crossroads.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com.

About Becky Gillette

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