In the 1990s, the “Golden Mile” of Route 40 in Frederick, Maryland, boasted three movie theaters with the Hoyts Cinemas 10 in Frederick Towne Mall, the Westridge Cinema 6 in the Westridge shopping center and the discount Holiday Cinemas on Baughmans Lane.
Today, none of those beloved theaters remain, but a brand new venture is planning to launch this summer called Warehouse Cinemas, hoping to revive a once-thriving moviegoing tradition nestled gently into the beautiful mountains of West Frederick.
“We’ve been looking at Frederick, Maryland, for a while now,” HighRock Group C.E.O. Rich Daughtridge said. “Our estimates … are that we’re going to deliver about 400,000 people to the cinema, which will also impact all the businesses neighboring [the theater].”
What made Frederick such a desired location?
“What’s attractive about Frederick is that there’s this high level of disposable income,” Daughtridge said. “There’s a population base that can support moviegoing. We also look at the competitive analysis and there’s really now only one location left, which is on the other side of Frederick [at the Regal Westview & IMAX over on Buckeystown Pike].”
Daughtridge knows the business well. He previously took over the Leitersburg Cinemas in Hagerstown, Maryland, and the Waynesboro Theater in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania.
“We have since sold those in early 2019, but we’ve always wanted to have this brand, which is Warehouse Cinemas,” Daughtridge said. “We’ve been working at it for about four or five years trying to find our first location and ideally a close-by location. … It happens to be about 30 minutes from our headquarters as well, so that’s always helpful.”
Rather than build from scratch, he is using the existing structure in Frederick Towne Mall, which closed in 2013 due to competition by the Francis Scott Key Mall across town. Once anchored by JCPenney and Montgomery Ward, the abandoned mall is now a ghost town flanked by Boscov’s, Home Depot, Frederick Furniture and Indian restaurant Taj Mahal.
“We took over the exact bones of the Hoyts,” Daughtridge said. “The ceiling heights are perfect, but we did a complete gut job. … We built a wall that separates what used to be the mall, but there’s emergency exit doors that, if you have a key, you can actually get into and look around. It is a dusty, old, creepy mall, so it’s an interesting place to be.”
The overall design pulls from the “Warehouse” title with a shipping container theme.
“It’s what we call modern industrial with a mix of eco-modern,” Daughtridge said. “We actually retrofitted a sea container entrance before you get into the promenade. It’s a lot of metals and we have this really cool wood treatment around the entire lobby. … We’re anti-fluorescent lights. … It’s this cool design that you would almost find in a brewery.”
While the design is industrial, the actual film presentation is state-of-the-art.
“We have 10 auditoriums,” Daughtridge said. “Seven of those 10 are smaller auditoriums that have about 60 leather recliners, then we have three [theaters] that are what we call large to mid-size. … One is about 160 seats, then the other two [are] about 140 each.”
The average screen size is over 20 feet with a unique SkyVUE viewing experience.
“We actually have a patent pending technology,” Daughtridge said. “It’s a raised and slightly tilted screen at about 12 degrees. … That basically allows for the optimal line of sight. … Stadium auditoriums, when they were converted to leather recliners … you actually at some level look through your feet. … We don’t believe in stadium seating.”
Cinephiles will also geek out over the sound and projector technology.
“One of the 10 [screens] is Dolby Atmos, so your booming movies, ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Fast & Furious,’ will be mastered in Dolby Atmos,” Daughtridge said. “The other nine auditoriums are still Dolby, Dolby 7.1, and all 10 auditoriums are laser 4k projectors, so it’s the top of the line projection system, great light, bright picture and the sound is state of the art.”
The high-tech approach also applies to ordering the gourmet concessions.
“We have a fast casual model,” Daughtridge said. “You come to the concession area, you order your food, you pick it up. If the movie’s already started, you go into your auditorium, we give you a silent, vibrating notification, a little pager system, and you come back out.”
The full bar includes wines, cocktails, signature drinks and a vast beer selection.
“The 28-tap beer system is a self-serve system, so you basically get a card, you put money on the card … and you can test and try beers,” Daughtridge said. “It charges you per ounce, then whenever you’re ready to pour the full beer, you pour your own beer, then you can basically hang out in the lobby or you can take it in the cinema.”
Tickets cost roughly $12, but check out the $5 discount special on Tuesday mornings.
“It’s a basic dynamic pricing model,” Daughtridge said. “There are those times like on Tuesday mornings where you’ll be able to get the same movie, the same seat for $5. … On a Friday and Saturday night, it goes up significantly, so it sort of ranges. We have four different [price] tiers throughout the day, but … ticket prices are about a $12 median.”
Of course, the big elephant in the room is the business challenge of the coronavirus.
“It is the big question of whether or not Gov. [Larry] Hogan will allow movie theaters to assemble,” Daughtridge said. “When we open, we don’t know. We were hoping this week, honestly, that Gov. Hogan would come out and allow us to open at limited capacity. … Hopefully this month, late this month, we’ll be able to open. We’re ready to go.”
Whenever things reopen, social distancing will be required at the theater.
“We feel strongly that masks will be required,” Daughtridge said. “We have cleaning protocols in place, we have masks, we have the social distancing and our [computer] automatically adds two seats of buffer [with six feet] between all reservations.”
A lot of it will depend on Hollywood, which has already pushed back release dates for Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” and Disney’s “Mulan” twice — and likely will push it again.
“‘Tenet’ is still holding for August, ‘Mulan’ is still holding for August and ‘Unhinged’ [is] holding for the end of July,” Daughtridge said. “I’m not optimistic that those movies aren’t going to get bumped based on what’s happening in California or New York. … Hopefully sometime in August we’ll have a tentpole movie that we can rely on to drive ticket sales.”
Either way, he’s confident that the future of movies is bright.
“Moviegoing is going to come back,” Daughtridge said. “There will be movies that will go on-demand, but I think just like restaurants, just like going out to eat, people want to go out and have a shared experience. There’s a community that’s created in an auditorium.”