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Emagine Spotlight

Going out to the movies, LaVerde believes, is a communal experience and people won’t stay home forever

I remember as a kid how amazing it was to go see a movie. Not much has changed about my enthusiasm for the big screen, but so much is different about the whole movie-going experience. 

Years ago, for instance, there were no online movie tickets (in fact, there was no online). You had to go to the theater and stand in line to purchase your ticket. Finding seating was random and sometimes you were forced to separate from the person you came with because only one seat was available in any given row. It sounds awkward today, but I promise you those were wonderful and simpler times. Back then (I’ve just severely dated myself) a night at the movies was like a social gathering. You saw everyone you knew and really looked forward to the entire experience. 

Today, buying tickets is a lot easier thanks to online purchasing and advanced seat selection. And seats have become a lot more comfortable. But the movie experience remains as just that — an experience. 

Meet Bloomfield Hills resident Anthony LaVerde, CEO of Emagine Theaters. This past year has been especially tough for movie theaters, which were closed for months on end due to COVID-19, and the chain lost millions of dollars. But LaVerde is a survivor who has come up with creative ways to keep Emagine afloat. 

In the beginning of the pandemic, no new movies were being released so the theater chain had to come up with ideas like offering alternative content and a bonus to-go order of popcorn with each gift card purchase, among other innovations. Thankfully, Emagine was one of three mainstream theaters eligible for a loan from a federal program that allowed them to continue to operate. 

I got a chance to sit down via Zoom with LaVerde. Having been named to the prestigious 40 Under 40 list in Crain’s 2018 issue, you can guess that this guy takes the word “driven” to a whole new level. Raised in New York and experienced in the hedge fund industry, LaVerde is no amateur when it comes to making the dollar work stronger and better than before.  

During the pandemic, Emagine has gone from 1,500 employees to 20. LaVerde noted that the company still pays for the health insurance of every one of his eligible employees. 

The company has made significant changes and raised more capital from their investors. Bottom line: They are still in the game, and as LaVerde put it, bigger and better than before. Emagine is one of the most well-managed movie theatre chains in the country, ranking first in every operating metric for the industry versus its competitors.  

We talked in-depth about how COVID-19 has kept people in their homes for so long and how streaming services are so significant to the future of the industry. Emagine recently acquired the historical Birmingham 8, so I asked how it will differ from Emagine’s other Birmingham theater, the Palladium.

"The major difference," LaVerde says, "is that Birmingham 8 will be less about Hollywood blockbusters and more about art films. It will also host live music with local bands, magic shows, private screenings for all occasions and celebrations, and coming soon, expanded liquor offerings."

The interior has been renovated and they are offering a higher level of food. The idea, he says, is for the Birmingham 8 to offer something to the area that has not ever been offered before. He really wants this facility as an alternative to the mainstream Hollywood films shown at the Palladium. 

This amazing innovator has even managed during the pandemic to develop an Emagine app (launching in June) that allows you to buy tickets, have your ticket printed out as you walk in and order concessions that will be delivered right to your seat – brand-new heated seats, I might add. You can also choose from more than a thousand different flavors from the Coca-Cola machine on this new app.

Going out to the movies, LaVerde believes, is a communal experience and people won’t stay home forever, even with the advent of gaming and live streaming readily available at home. Being someone who is always looking to provide a better experience, he says Emagine is pivoting towards the future and what they can do to keep the “experience of coming to a theater always alive and thriving.” What, I asked, will make people leave their house when they can get new movies in their living room? Everyone has a kitchen in their home, LaVerde points out, but they still go out to eat.

Point taken. 

What I got most out of our conversation was LaVerde’s determination and state-of-the-art ideas. While COVID-19 was a big blow, it did provide the time to pause and reflect on the next steps for the movie industry. He has a vision and knows that the traditional movie theater has shifted towards a more technical future. 

Emagine has also purchased four more theaters since the pandemic hit and LaVerde isn’t done acquiring businesses. Emagine has recently put in an NBA court-sized screen in the Novi location and an even larger one in the Canton theater. In his own take on a Warren Buffet quote, LaVerde says, “Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful.” 

As of this writing, theaters in Michigan are at 50% capacity with the hopes that they will be back to 100% by late summer. 

I know we’ll continue to see LaVerde do great things to come. His passion for what he does is unwavering, and I for one can’t wait to see what’s next. 

Lights, camera, action!

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