As Broadway legend Ethel Merman used to sing, there’s no business like show business.
By David Sali
That’s pretty much how Bruce Gurberg feels. But in his case, he’s in the business of showing the shows.
Mr. Gurberg, 47, is the owner of the CineStarz theatre chain, which opened a cineplex at the Orleans Town Centre earlier this month at the site of the former Mayfair. CineStarz now operates six theatres in Ontario and Quebec, including a seven-screen multiplex in Gatineau, and Mr. Gurberg is keen to keep his mini movie empire growing.
With cinema operators in Canada facing more competition than ever from on-demand video and Internet streaming services such as Netflix, it might seem surprising that someone like Mr. Gurberg would be so bullish on the big screen business.
But the son of a Montreal theatre owner who started working the projector when he was 10 years old says there’s something about the smell of popcorn wafting through a lobby, the anticipation of the curtains opening and the opening credits rolling that keep customers coming back even when they could be lazing on the couch.
“The bottom line is this - people love to get out of their house to watch a movie on a big screen,” says Mr. Gurberg. “It’s really about the experience. You can’t replicate that in a house.”
To that end, CineStarz is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to renovate the Orleans multiplex. Three viewing rooms are now open, and Mr. Gurberg is in the process of finishing another three, installing “massive” digital screens, including at least a couple in 3D. Other upgrades could include stadium seating.
At the same time, ticket prices are reasonable. Admission is $5 or $6, and popcorn can be had for as low as about $2. Mr. Gurberg also offers special rates for school children and other groups.
Most films typically come to CineStarz a couple of weeks after their release, and Mr. Gurberg is particularly catering to the francophone community in Orleans. Several screens will feature French-language films, including first-run Quebec movies.
“My concept is basically, state-of-the-art and top-of-the-line, except when you get to the cash,” he says. “You don’t have to mortgage your house to take your family to a movie and have popcorn and drinks. Generally, once we get a customer to come once, they love it and come back. My goal is to make families feel good.”
Orleans Coun. Bob Monette says he couldn’t be happier about Mr. Gurberg’s decision to take over the Mayfair.
“He’s got the right attitude to make it work,” says Mr. Monette. “He knows what it takes, and I think he has a good respect for the community.”
A father of two young children himself, Mr. Gurberg says he’s an all-around film buff who particularly loves “a good action movie.” Almost a decade after quitting his previous career as an auto exporter to open his first theatre in Gatineau, he says he has no regrets.
“All my cinemas are doing very nicely,” he says happily. “I’m growing and I’m not a person that needs to have huge revenue.”