When Dan Tocchini proposed placing fewer seats in his movie theaters in order to make more money, the idea got panned like a dud film skewered on Rotten Tomatoes.
“Everybody told me I was nuts,” said Tocchini, standing last week outside the Airport Stadium 12 north of Santa Rosa, where he recently began a $2.5 million theater renovation.
However, Tocchini, a longtime Santa Rosa businessman, wasn’t thinking of using just any seat. More than two years ago, his company pulled out the old chairs at a theater in Camarillo and installed plush, electric-powered recliners — cutting the overall seating roughly in half. Patrons not only enjoyed the extra room, he said, but they found they could go online to reserve a specific seat for their movie experience.
“You’re making it much more comfortable than home,” said Tocchini, 83, whose Santa Rosa Entertainment Group operates 11 theater complexes in California, including five in Sonoma County. The result, he said, is ticket sales in Camarillo went up, just as they did in Clovis and Lodi after completing recliner upgrades at the company’s theaters there.
For the county, this summer may well be remembered as the season of the blockbuster, as in mammoth cinema seat.
Two local complexes are rolling out renovated theaters filled with beefy, faux leather recliners. Patrons there will be able to reserve specific seats and partake of enhanced food offerings paired with craft beer and wine.
First up is the Boulevard 14 Cinemas in Petaluma, which has finished installing “luxury electric recliners” in all 14 theaters, cutting seating capacity in half. The theater plans to start selling upscale beer, wine and food within 30 days, said Dave Corkill, owner of parent company Cinema West.
The Boulevard is Cinema West’s fifth complex to get the big seats, Corkill said. He plans to add them to all 13 theater locations in California and Idaho, including the Sonoma 9 Cinemas in Sonoma.
“I haven’t seen anything that a movie theater could do to improve itself that has been as well received and revolutionary as reclining seats,” Corkill said. With reserved seating, “you can arrive five minutes before the show starts and know where you’re going to sit.”
Next up, by the end of September, Tocchini plans to install recliners in all 12 theaters at the Airport cinemas, as well as adding a bar and grill there so patrons can buy prepared food, craft beer and wine. He next wants to put the big chairs in another local property, the Roxy Stadium 14 in downtown Santa Rosa.
To top it off, both local theater companies insist they are keeping prices at their current levels, even as they add more cush for your tush.
In 2014, the movie recliner craze took off when AMC, the world’s largest cinema chain, announced it would spend $600 million to add the big chairs at 1,800 auditoriums.
Last year the company said it had completed the work at about 1,550 of those theaters and planned to add recliners to a total of 3,350 screens by late 2018, according to the online entertainment news site Deadline Hollywood. Among two other large players, Regal is planning to boost the number of recliner venues this year to 1,200 from 900, and Cinemark’s 1,000 auditoriums with recliners represent more than a fifth of its domestic locations.