When Stephen Mann saw “Dirty Dancing” for the first time, it was like that song from the hit movie’s soundtrack. It was like he had the time of his life.

The CEO of Mann Theatres wants to bring back that magical feeling for moviegoers of watching a movie together by reopening the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter Friday, June 26.

“The music, the story … it’s still very, very popular, and it caters to a large audience. It’s not just young people. Older people like it, younger people like it, and everyone in between,” Mann said of “Dirty Dancing,” one of the films from years past that the Lakes 12 Theatre will be showing.

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“Dirty Dancing” was released in 1987 and features Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey as star-crossed lovers from different socio-economic classes who dance their way to true love.

“We’ve had good success with ‘Back to the Future,’ great success with ‘Goonies.’ Now one of my favorites of all time is ‘Dirty Dancing,’ and that’s performed well, too,” Mann said.

“Avengers,” “Grease,” “Jaws,” “Jurassic Park” and “Picture Perfect” are the other titles the Lakes 12 Theatre is offering to kick off its reopening, and Mann is banking on that roster of blockbusters to fill theater seats again after the stay-at-home order was rescinded.

“We had no choice but to offer older films … so every week as we go through this, you know, based on surveys, based on what we see out in the market across the country and if we have access to it, that’s what will decide what we’re going to play,” Mann said.

The Lakes 12 Theatre will reopen with eight of its 12 auditoriums offering showings of those perennial crowd pleasers. The remaining four auditoriums will not be in use at this time due to air-conditioning costs, according to Mann.

“Based on the demand out there right now from the public, we felt eight screens were very, very sufficient,” Mann said.

Stephen Mann is the chief executive officer of Mann Theatres, which owns the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter. Submitted photo / Mann Theatres
Stephen Mann is the chief executive officer of Mann Theatres, which owns the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter. Submitted photo / Mann Theatres

Showtime

Mann Theatres reopened its Champlin Cinema 14 last weekend in the Twin Cities with the same policy for patrons it has for the Lakes 12 regarding the wearing of masks by patrons — encouraged, not mandatory — with masks available for purchase for $1 in theater lobbies.

“Over the weekend, believe it or not, I had one customer wear a mask — that was all. And I was really surprised by that,” Mann said. “We’ll kind of reassess it on Monday, see if we have any complaints, see what the reaction is and kind of go from there.”

Mann Theatres reopens the rest of its properties this weekend. The chain was founded in 1935 and now includes 11 locations with a total of 94 screens. And the chain sells concessions, such as popcorn and beverages, which generate a lot of revenue for movie theater operators.

“When you sit down at your table at a restaurant, obviously you’re not going to wear a mask because you’re eating and drinking. Well, theaters are the same way. People that come to the movie, the vast majority are either eating concessions or drinking beverages or whatever the case might be,” Mann said.

The Lakes 12 Theatre will offer three showings per auditorium per day instead of the five showings per auditorium per day before it closed its doors months ago. The fewer showings will allow theater staff the time to do a more thorough cleaning between showings.

“For the most part, we’re running a show every three hours. Normally, we’d run a show every two hours. And we’ve cut out our 9 o’clock shows … so, yeah, we have cut way back,” Mann said.

Unlike some other movie theater chains, Mann Theatres will in its initial week of reopening offer daily showings, but Mann said he plans to reassess that after box office receipts come in.

“The first new feature that we have is not until July 10, which is a picture called ‘Unhinged’ from Russell Crowe. Then we’ve got Disney’s ‘Mulan’ coming up on July 24. And we’ve got ‘Tenet’ from Warner Bros. coming up on July 31,” Mann said.

Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch
Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

General admission

Patrons used to reserve their seats, whether they purchased tickets online, at the ticket counter in person or at the self-serve kiosks in theater lobbies. The chain has switched to general admission to accommodate those who already live or travel together who want to sit together.

“We've already put a script together that the cashier will read to every customer that walks through the door and just explain to them that it’s general seating and that we ask when you go into the auditorium to please social distance yourself from any other group,” he said.

Mann Theatres staff will then check its auditoriums to see if the chain’s social distancing policy is being adhered to.

“Any couple that comes in, for example, if they were to buy seats, like I said, one and three, they’re going to sit in seats one and two. They’re not going to spread out. They’re going to want to sit together,” Mann explained about the switch from reserved seating to general admission.

Mann Theatres ran two triplexes in the Brainerd lakes area but closed those theaters when it opened the Baxter theater in 1996, which then had 10 screens. Two more screens were added in 2012.

“We felt that we would get too many complaints if you came out with your family and you were told you can’t sit together, so that’s the way we’re going to start out. We’re going to monitor it very closely and, hopefully, people respect it,” Mann said of reopening.

A sign posted at the front entrances of the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter informs the public it is closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Submitted photo / Mindy Peterson-Lee
A sign posted at the front entrances of the Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter informs the public it is closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Submitted photo / Mindy Peterson-Lee

Reopening

Movie theaters statewide were permitted to reopen two weeks ago, and ticket sales at other chains have been slow, according to Mann.

“I think the No. 1 reason is film. And the No. 2 reason is it’s going to take people, you know, a while to, you know, get a sense of safety and security going into theaters, restaurants — I don’t care where it is. It’s going to be kind of a slow rebound if you will,” Mann said.

AMC Theatres, the nation's largest movie chain, recently reversed its optional face mask policy after public outcry and will now require employees and guests to wear masks when the first set of the chain’s theaters reopens July 15 in more than 400 locations across the country.

A recent Mann Theatres survey resulted in about 1,200 responses, according to Mann, and among the questions asked was what kind of movies people wanted to watch when theaters reopened during a time when many movie studios had pushed back their release dates.

“We chose based on what the attendance was in other markets,” Mann said of the other considerations that factored into the Baxter theater’s initial offerings. “For example, ‘Grease’ was the No. 1 film all around the country, believe it or not. It’s a classic, so that’s one of the films.”

A movie that Mann chose to offer at the Champlin Cinema 14 was the disaster movie “Twister,” and he said if it performed well he could offer the title at the Lakes 12 Theatre next week.

“We will be making a complete change every week. It’s not like normal business where if a picture does business, we hold it over for a second week. When we’re playing this kind of film, I will not hold anything, so we will have eight fresh pictures again a week from Friday,” Mann said.

Mann predicts that with new releases in the fall, such as the long-awaited “Top Gun” sequel starring Tom Cruise and the latest James Bond installment “No Time to Die,” that ticket sales will pick up, but for now Mann Theatres is offering old favorites.

“We’re trying to pick films that cater to a large audience, you know? We stayed away, if you’ve looked at our bookings, horror, for example,” he said. “We’re trying to keep it more towards the family because, you know, in our market family is first and foremost our No. 1 audience.”

Mann Theatres reopening plan

  • There is no reserved seating. Patrons that arrive at the theater together will be permitted to sit together in an auditorium, but groups and individuals will be asked to sit at least 6 feet apart from other groups or individuals who did not travel to the theater as a group.

  • Hand sanitizer stations are located throughout the theaters, and disinfectant wipes are available upon request.

  • Increased cleanliness.

  • Reminders for social distancing.

  • Masks and gloves for all team members.

  • Limits to the number of people inside the theatres.

  • Plexiglas partitions at concession tills as well as at the box office.

Source: Mann Theatres

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL.