KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Movie theater companies in Kansas can reopen today but one local company with theaters across the country and a long family history isn’t quite ready to open yet.
B&B Theatres is based in Liberty, Missouri, with 50 theaters across eight states. The company has been in the movie business since before films had sound. The piano in the lobby of their Liberty theater was once used to play along to the films.
Britannie Bagby Baker, executive vice president and fourth generation of the family to work at the company, sat down to play a few notes at the piano her great grandmother used to play.
“Our great grandfather purchased the theater where she played the silent movies and they fell in love,” she said. “They got married and that is the origin of B&B Theatres.”
The sounds of the piano are a comfort in a largely silent theater. Their theaters have been silent for weeks in the face of the pandemic. They say shuttering their business has forced them furlough almost all of their employees.
“That was a hard day,” Bagby Baker said. "We set a call a week before we closed with all of our salaried managers, all of our managers in our buildings and tried to be very honest and open with them, and said this is where we see things going and we don’t want to sugar coat things. We love you too much. We think of you as family and we need everyone to understand that when our theaters close, we are going to have to furlough our employees. With absolutely no income coming in there is going to be a lot to navigate.”
“It was the worst day in our careers by far,” said her brother Brock Bagby, also executive vice president at B&B Theatres.
“We’ve been forced to fight and use our cash reserves and work with our banking partners and our landlords to try to defer payments and do the best we can without any help,” said Bagby Baker.
“It’s like this weight of not wanting to be the generation that fails which is encouraging, inspiring, and terrifying all at the same time,” said Bobbie Bagby Ford, sister to Brock and Britannie, executive vice president at B&B Theatres.
Now these three siblings have been back together these last few weeks while working, sharing childcare, and trying to figure out how to bring back the movies safely.
“We want our guests and our employees to be safe. We want our family to be safe. And yet, it’s balancing the economic turmoil that we are all in and making sure that we have a business to come back to," Bagby Ford said.
They aren’t ready to get back to business fully yet, hoping to slowly start reopening theaters in mid-June and July with restrictions.
They will be working with local health officials to follow different safety requirements and guidelines in their varying locations. Employees will wear masks and interactions will be limited, encouraging customers to buy tickets online. They may not show as many movies per day and they will be reducing capacity at each showing.
That will be a little easier, Bagby said, because of the larger seats than most of their theaters now have.
“Our theaters are very different than they were a few years ago. We now have seven foot row spacing in between our seats,” he said
“If you select a seat, the seats around it will automatically not be available in the short term” said Bagby Ford about their assigned seating.
The company did, however, open Twin Drive-In in Independence last weekend.
“We went and worked it. I couldn’t stand it. I had to go,” Bagby said.
“Both of our grandfathers were drive-in lovers and we’ve been saying both of them are smiling down on us right now because it's our drive-ins that are saving us,” Bagby Baker said.
On Saturday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., B&B Theatres will be selling curbside popcorn at their theaters.
The proceeds will go to cover the cost of June benefits for their furloughed employees until they can bring them back, something the family is hopeful and confident will happen soon.
“We’ve survived for 100 years. We’ve gone through wars. We’ve gone through depressions, and we’ve survived. Our industry has survived and so we are going to get through this. We have to continue to be hopeful. We have to lift each other up,” Bagby Baker said.
The strength of streaming, especially during stay at home orders does not shake them, Bagby Ford said.
AMC recently announced they would sever ties with Universal Pictures after "Trolls World Tour" was released straight to 'video on demand'.
“We are partners with our studio partners. We can’t exist without each other. They need us. We need them,” Bagby Ford said. “We think it is vital that we continue to keep the window which is the amount of time between when the movie comes out in movie theaters and the time movies stream at home,” she said. “I want to be able to bring the magic of the movies for a long time. I think it is something that America needs.”
If you are ready to see a movie in a theater, B&B has started offering private screenings of classic movies at some locations. Ten people can watch a film with limited concessions for $200. Larger groups, where allowed by local government rules, can contact the theater.