Since July 1991, the University Mall Theatres has operated as a popular, second run, Fairfax community movie theater.
“[I like going there because] the employees are nice, the price is cheap, and the popcorn is really good,” Mason student Sean Cummings said.
Mark O’Meara, the owner of University Mall Theatre and Cinema Arts on Main St., opened the theater thinking he could reach a cheaper movie market.
The movie theater is the last second run theater in the Washington area, which means once the area theater’s “lose” the film, University Mall Theatres is able to show it. Some movies will show as early as five weeks after the release date.
On Aug. 30, University Mall Theatres’ “Save our Butts!” campaign was successfully funded. The goal was to reach $100,000 to replace the theater’s seats, but they surpassed the pledge and raised $131,758.
The theater has never had new seats as they were always bought used from old theaters.
O’Meara felt that it was a perfect time to purchase new seats in light of the 15-month University Mall renovations. He and Daniel Collings, the General Manager for the theater, raised the money through Kickstarter.com.
Kickstarter is a crowdsourcing website in which backers can donate to thousands of creative projects ranging from making potato salad to the “Dr. Who” rap album. Each fund also has gifts attached to them. Which each donation, a reward is given by the backer.
However, a little less than half of the projects reach the goal the creator sets, which means the project gets nothing in the end.
To help the project be successful, Collings decided the length of the campaign should be less than 30 days.
“Campaigns that are 30 days or less are 43% more likely to succeed,” Collings said. “Something about the urgency about 30 days or less causes people to be excited and ones that are longer are less likely to be successful.”
With the money, O’Meara plans on purchasing 500 new seats. He hopes to use the remaining money for other projects, including replacing the carpeting, adding a handicap lift and sprucing up the theater’s entrance.
O’Meara and Collings realize they have one challenge they must face: giving backers their rewards.
“So we were talking about how to do the rewards,” O’Meara said. “We haven’t figured out how to do that logistically. [For example,] there’s 1033 people that get a free combo. Two free combos actually. So how am I going to do 2066 combos.”
Free popcorn is a small price to pay for the successful campaign.
O’Meara remembers one customer coming into the theater and saying, “’You guys have been in the community for 23 years and there hasn’t been a way to say thank you until, now.’ Which is why I think we hit our [Kickstarter] goal.”
O’Meara feels that their customer service, prices and their popcorn, which is coined “the best popcorn in the known universe” is what keeps people coming back.
University Mall Theatres is able to reach a market of all ages, those who are busy and those who do not want to pay too much to see a movie.
“I like [the theater],” Mason student Natasha Raja said. “Especially for the value and the price. Also, the movies aren’t too old, you get the movie theater experience without breaking the bank.”
New seats may be an added reason for locals and students to go to the theater and may help to enhance the community feel that O’Meara finds integral to the movie watching experience.
“I am all about movie promoting; I want people going to the movies,” O’Meara said. “Because I don’t want people watching movies on their phone. I just worry about that. I mean it’s easy and it’s convenient but I don’t want that to become the mainstay. You can’t beat the communal feel. I don’t think that will ever change.”
Photos by Amy Podraza