When a flood last August forced the Caldwell Cinemas to close its doors, the owners of Bow Tie Cinemas had a choice to make: take their losses and leave or rebuild the 105-year-old theater.
The oldest operating theater circuit in North America, Bow Tie decided not only to stay, but to try something new.
Five months after the flood, Caldwell Cinemas celebrated its official grand reopening on Wednesday, Jan. 16, featuring new luxury reclining seats and interior renovations, while still managing to keep its iconic small-town charm.
“Everything’s new here in the building and the seats are electric recliners,” said Joe Masher, chief operating officer of Bow Tie Cinemas. While the theater space is too small to provide a dine-in experience and will not serve liquor, in accordance with New Jersey liquor laws, it has its core concessions and a renovated party room for events.
Still, the theater has remained charmingly familiar, with its original layout and even some familiar faces. Avid Caldwell Cinemas moviegoers will be greeted by the same management team and staff that worked at the theater prior to the flood. Bow Tie Cinemas was able to retain the Caldwell employees during the renovation, relocating them to other area theaters until the Caldwell location was reopened.
“[The feedback has] been overwhelmingly positive,” said Masher. The theater opened its doors to the public on December 21, just in time for the Christmas season. “People just love the seats and they love that it’s the same management team and the staff.”
The new theaters are filled with wonderfully comfortable reclining leather seats and an impressive amount of foot space. However, as one luxury seat takes up the space of four original seats, advanced ticket sales are up 60 percent, so customers are strongly encouraged to reserve a seat in advance to guarantee their spot.
Caldwell Cinemas is the first of the very small in-town theaters that Bow Tie Cinemas operates to receive a luxury remodel. Its success will help inform Bow Tie’s future decisions to remodel other small-town locations into a luxury experience. Bow Tie operates Montclair’s Clairidge Theater and previously ran The Bellevue Theater, which closed its doors in November of 2017.
“[Bow Tie’s] mission is making anchors out movie theaters in downtown corridors,” said Caldwell Councilman Jonathan Lace. “That’s really important because Bow Tie is helping support other local businesses here in Caldwell.”
Masher led a ceremonial ribbon-cutting alongside Lace, Councilwoman Christine Schmidt, Councilman Henderson Cole, North Essex Chamber of Commerce President Michael Daniels and Bow Tie owner Ben Moss.
“Bow Tie had the opportunity to move out, but they chose to stay here in Caldwell and they’re able to offer a better user experience after such a devastating flood,” Lace said.