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RIVERBANK — Thanks to Netflix and big, flatscreen TVs, when it comes to entertainment, there’s been no place like home in recent years. Now the movie theater industry is trying to lure moviegoers back — with leather recliners.
One Central Valley multiplex where movie fans can enjoy a luxury motion picture experience is Galaxy Theatre in Riverbank. This summer the theater underwent a major remodel and replaced its seats with leather recliners and swinging trays so guests can put their feet up and enjoy a snack while they watch, just as if they were at home.
“We believe this is the future of the cinematic exhibition industry,” said the theater’s owner Rafe Cohen. “The revolution is the equivalent to when stadium seating came in.”
Viewers don’t even need to put their feet down if someone else wants to get by. There’s plenty of room between rows.
Moviegoers can reserve seats when they buy their tickets. The theater charges an extra dollar per ticket when reservations are made and paid for online. Cohen said that is a luxury customers get used to quickly.
“Once you get used to reserved seating, it’s like, why would you ever do it the other way?” Cohen said.
The new amenities have proven popular with local movie fans so far.
“Best experience ever. This is the first movie for our 4- and 2-year-old grandchildren,” said Riverbank Galaxy Theatre customer Linda Matthews. “My husband and I have been here before and have enjoyed the experience.”
John Krediet of Modesto is also a repeat customer.
“Second time since they have remodeled,” he said.. “It’s great. The new seats are comfortable, like your recliner at home.”
In addition to homestyle seating, Galaxy’s sound and projection have been upgraded to all-digital quality. Even the snackbar is upscale. In addition to the typical hotdogs, popcorn and sodas, Galaxy has added gourmet sausages, beer and wine to its menu.
Movie theater owners realized it was time to improve the customer experience. Theater attendance has fallen from an all-time high of 1.57 billion in 2002 to 1.34 billion in 2013, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners.
Cohen has installed the new seating in four of his 11 theaters. His aren’t the only ones getting the luxury treatment, however. AMC Entertainment plans to spend $600 million over the next five years to install recliners for 1,800 of its 5,000 screens throughout the country. The Wall Street Journal reported in early July that attendance at some of the upgraded theaters had jumped 80 percent.
Some theater chains are saving the recliners for premium auditoriums, but Cohen has installed them for all 12 screens at Galaxy. Because the chairs are bigger than standard cinema seats, there’s only room for about half as many recliners. Still, Cohen said he does not plan to raise ticket prices.
Instead, he’ll rely on increased attendance to make up the difference.
“It’s great that we have all these bells and whistles, but we haven’t raised our prices,” he said. “It’s a much better experience at no extra cost.”