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This town is big enough for the both of us, Stafford cinema boss insists

By Pete Madeley | Stafford | News | Published:

It has been a bumper start to the year for some of the UK's major cinema operators, with profits soaring as filmgoers flock to see a series of Hollywood blockbusters.

Stafford Cinema boss Anthony Harris (left) says the cinema had a great first weekend

The likes of Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War have helped annual revenues at Cineworld jump more than 10 per cent, bucking a trend that saw other chains such as Odeon and Vue suffer profit slumps last year.

But away from the multiplexes, independent cinemas are alive and well in the UK.

The latest addition to the indie scene is Stafford Cinema, which reopened the doors of its Newport Road site to customers on Friday just six months after it appeared to be on the cusp of closing down for good.

New owners AJH Cinema have come in, given it a paint job, revamped the interior, and installed a new heating system.

Thrive

And despite a 'fairly quiet' opening weekend – on Saturday it faced competition from the FA Cup final and a certain wedding in Windsor – bosses are hopeful that the cinema can thrive.

"We want to make a go of things here. It is a good site and there is plenty of potential," said boss Anthony Harris, who started work on the place in March.

Unlocking that potential will be a significant challenge, but another one is set to come in the shape of competition from the big boys right on the doorstep.

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Odeon is set to open its luxurious Riverside Cinema in the coming months, and the difference between the two sites could not be more stark.

The new Riverside cinema is under construction

While the multiplex will feature six screens and has cost £6.5m to build as part of a major retail development, Stafford Cinema has three screens and has been revamped on a shoestring.

The main job, Mr Harris says, was fixing the heating system in screen three. "It was like sitting in a fridge," he recalls with a shudder.

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For Mr Harris, there is a simple formula for success at an indie: Keep prices low and offer a more personal service than the majors.

"I can never criticise the Odeons," said Mr Harris, who has previously worked for cinema giant UGC, which is now Cineworld.

"They have luxury screens with fancy seats, but you pay a price for all of that. I look at it in a different way. We are not really trying to compete.

"If we keep the prices down, we'll get the families in.

"People will know they can come here and have a great night with a good film and popcorn and whatnot, and they won't have to pay a fortune for it."

Guidance

He added that with a population of more than 120,000 across the wider borough, there is ample room for two cinemas in Stafford. And he'll have expert guidance from Graeme Cotton, who has run the Electric Palace Picture House in Cannock since 2009.

The initial focus at Stafford Cinema will be on mainstream films, and the first weekend's offerings included the new Avengers flick, Peter Rabbit, Sherlock Gnomes and A Quiet Place.

However, Mr Harris has not ruled out moving in a more 'arthouse' direction in future. "It is about putting bums on seats, and we will have to see what films our audience want to see," he said.

"We have that control, and if films are doing well then we will have no problem with holding them over and running them for an extra week."

For many critics, the rise of independent cinema has been something of a strange phenomenon in the age of the digital download.

A decade ago some were ready to drawer the final curtain as streaming movies became the done thing.

Even in the days of Netflix and Amazon Prime, the thought of going out to see a film endures.

Pete Madeley

By Pete Madeley
@P_Madeley_Star

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.

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