It’s a Tuesday afternoon at Sierra Vista Cinemas 16, and Santa Rosa Entertainment Group vice president Neil Pearlmutter shares the various measures the Clovis theater has taken within the past decade to stay relevant in a constantly evolving industry — all from the comfort of its latest upgrade, of course: power reclining seats.
Resting in a corner of Sierra Vista Cinemas 16’s lobby, the placement of what were meant to be two samples of what local theatergoers would come to expect during this fall’s nearly two-month seat installation process offers a comfy, uninhibited view of the steady stream of patrons and employees passing through the space.
Promotional displays featuring upcoming films of “xXx: Return of Xander Cage,” “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and “The Boss Baby” create a barrier surrounding what has become a makeshift office for those whose regular work areas are being outfitted with new carpet. In auditorium No. 10, the latest and greatest in sound system technology, Dolby Atmos, is being put in for Thursday evening’s guests (and audiophiles) to experience.
Change is simply part of the game for this place.
“It’s somewhat of a small industry, so you get to know everyone and the products. They’ll call and say, ‘We have this new something. Want to try it?’ ” Pearlmutter explained. “It’s about knowing what’s out there, weighing what people are going to like or not and if we think it’s going to be supported. Are the companies making them going to keep updating it? Are the studios going to give content for it?”
Since its opening in December 2006, which Pearlmutter happened to oversee, the Santa Rosa Entertainment Group theater has been on the receiving end of a series of changes, starting with the gradual introduction of digital projectors in 2009 to the addition of Barco Escape — a panoramic, multi-screen movie format — with 2015’s feature film, “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials.”
Sierra Vista Cinemas 16 is the only theater of the company’s 11 California locations to house this unique feature, Pearlmutter said, citing its population, auditorium No. 7’s dimensions and the vice president’s personal affection for the site as some of the factors that went into the decision.
But when it came to installing power reclining seats toward the end of August, the reconversion system had already been practiced and refined in two previous Santa Rosa Entertainment Group theaters — the transition never closing Sierra Vista Cinemas 16’s doors completely, but one eight-auditorium wing at a time.
“We had to build out the stadium risers, so they are wider to fit the seats — before there were about 48 inches from row to row and now there are about 80 inches,” Pearlmutter said. “We had to reconfigure the entire seating area and add electrical because they’re powered.”
The diligently researched, plush recliners provide patrons with a cup holder to place their drinks, swing-out food tray to accommodate a handful of the snack bar’s offerings and a motorized actuator that brings the seat to a nice recline when pushed. Auditoriums range from 65 seats in Sierra Vista Cinemas 16’s smaller theaters to 155 in its largest, cutting the original occupancy nearly in half.
Still, that doesn’t seem to deter community members from praising the theater’s latest upgrade, which officially opened to the public with the first auditorium in late October, said Pearlmutter. Theater-goers and box office attendants alike have steadily grown accustomed to Sierra Vista Cinemas 16’s reserved seating, requiring guests to select their seat before even entering the auditorium.
“The box office staff has to be patient and proactive in guiding people through the process the first few times — here’s the layout, here’s the monitor,” he said. “But after that, we’ve experienced people coming up and saying, ‘I want E3’ like it’s Battleship. They know where they’re going.”
Online ticket purchases have also ticked up since the shift, with the ratio now 50/50 between movietickets.com and the box office.
Locals have had a couple months to settle into the theater’s updated operation — but don’t get too comfortable, Clovisians. Pearlmutter points to the wall the sample chairs are sitting against, which encloses Sierra Vista Cinemas 16’s party room. A portion of the area will soon house a built-in bar, and serve guests an expanded menu of wine, beer, gourmet sausages, paninis, pizza and more.
Construction on the new amenity will start in January 2017, with Pearlmutter explaining that the additional water lines, drainage and electrical maneuvering shouldn’t require too lengthy of a time frame before theater-goers can fully take advantage of it.
“As an industry, we have to keep up. From the beginning, there were always things being tried and we’re following in that suit, but it’s definitely bigger now,” he said. “We want to give people more of a reason to want to get out. We want you to come here, get your popcorn and maybe have a glass of wine. It can also be ‘I got the babysitter; I can go to one place to do it all.’ We just want to provide a better experience for the same price.”
Details: (559) 297-3456, www.sregmovies.com