Playing (somewhere outside of Big Rapids)



BIG RAPIDS – A variety of businesses – locally owned and chain owned – were affected statewide in 2020, Big Rapids included, due to COVID-19 restrictions and closures.

But, one type of business has not been able to recover in the city, and it is not known if it ever will: movie theaters.

In March 2020, restrictions were put in place across the country, viewing businesses as essential and non-essential. Movie theaters were not considered essential and owners were forced to close their doors, unsure of when, if ever, they would reopen. For months, the film industry suffered as restrictions limited efforts to produce films.

Before the pandemic, two fully functioning cinemas operated within the city limits – separated within a mile of each other.

Bulldog Cinema, on Maple Street, was a locally owned and operated independent cinema that opened in 2018. It featured two different screens with state-of-the-art digital projectors and a premium sound system.

When COVID-19 restrictions eased in May 2020, Bulldog Cinema reopened to the public, but closed permanently within months. Before the shutdown, residents of Big Rapids raised more than $ 2,000 – through popcorn sales and a GoFundMe account – to help keep the business afloat.

Elsewhere in town, on South Michigan Avenue, is now an empty AMC building.

In 2015, the theater – then Carmike Cinemas – was to double in size, adding four screens and 1,200 seats, reshaping the area around the current structure. However, the company later withdrew from its plans.

The city then asked Twin Shores, a company that provides premium construction, development and facilities services to businesses, to assess the site. Bill Hawes, of Twin Shores, was part of the assessment at the time and said his company found there was no need for renovations.

“The building was paid off and there was no debt service on the property and (the theater) was generating income,” he told the Pioneer, noting that Carmike was preparing for a merger.

In 2016, AMC Entertainment announced its merger with Carmike Cinemas after purchasing all of the movie channel’s outstanding shares.

AMC in Big Rapids remained open until the restrictions closed. The theater never reopened when restrictions eased and closing signs were stuck to the front door.


Hawes said that for the size of a Big Rapids community, even with a college population, there just isn’t a lot of investment available in the movie theater business model. The reality of the market, Hawes said, is that the margins in theaters are very tight and that locations – in terms of population – such as Big Rapids are difficult to operate.

Big Rapids City Manager Mark Gifford said he had heard the same news from people in the cinema in the past.

“From what I’ve heard from those who work in this field, as the demographics are right now in Big Rapids, you will never see a movie chain… that’s what they told me,” Gifford said, recalling a conversation.

The city of Big Rapids has experienced a population decline over the past 10 years, with a recorded loss of 27% of residents since 2010, according to the 2020 census results. The city’s total population in 2010 was 10 601, and the city experienced a loss of 2,874 for a total of 7,727 residents in 2020.

However, a locally owned and operated movie theater is something Hawes said wouldn’t be out of the question for Big Rapids.

A group of local investors could partner with a small operator, Hawes explained, and operate the cinema as a business they would like to be in town, but also know it won’t be a substantial income, he said. he declares.

Gifford said the city would welcome anyone or business interested in opening a movie theater in Big Rapids.

As recently as 2019, Lucas Cinemas was another film company in talks with Big Rapids officials about a new location in town, Gifford said. However, the project never progressed. Lucas Cinemas owns and operates a cinema in Georgia and another in Kentucky.

Representatives for Lucas Cinemas could not be reached for comment on this story.

With the Big Rapids theaters shutting down, moviegoers must now travel outside of Mecosta County to enjoy the latest blockbuster hit. There are currently five theaters in three different cities – Mount Pleasant, Greenville and Fremont – within a 35 mile radius.

Due to the closures, movie theater attendance figures took a hit last year, according to the THEME 2020 report from the Motion Picture Association.

In 2020, the US / Canadian box office market reached $ 2.2 billion, down 80% from $ 11.4 billion in 2019. Tickets sold – 240 million – were down 81% compared to 2019.

The number of films released in theaters was 338 in 2020, a decrease of 66% from 2019, as release plans for many films have been changed or postponed due to the pandemic.

Only 46% of the US / Canadian population aged 2 or older attended a movie at least once in 2020, down from 75% in 2019 due to restrictions. For that same population, only 3% were frequent moviegoers who went to the movies once a month or more, which is an 11% drop from 2019. These people were responsible for 43% of all tickets sold.

More than half of the tickets sold went to occasional moviegoers – 29% of the population – while the remaining 6% went to infrequent moviegoers. More than half – 54% – of the population did not visit a cinema in 2020 compared to 29% in 2019.

The # 1 movie of 2020 was Bad Boys for Life.



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