Cory Jacobson, president of Michigan-based Phoenix Theatres, the owner of the Beacon Cinema in downtown Pittsfield, started in the movie theater business as a teenager.
“I was 14-years-old when I learned how to pop popcorn. It was my first job and I never left,” Cory said. “Since then, I’ve painted floors, fixed seats and done what is necessary to fix up a theater. “I am particularly proud to say that every person that works in our corporate office has started their career in the cinema business at entry level jobs, popping popcorn, showing movies or ripping tickets and now
play a key roles in operating our own theatre circuit.”
He started rejuvenating and renovating theaters in 1981. It became his passion. After years of working for others, Cory started Phoenix Theatres in 2000 to revitalize older theaters and theaters that had not reached their potential.
“We have typically gone into locations that the large theater circuits have walked away from. In some cases they threw the keys at the landlord and walked away,” he said. “We’ve gone in and renovated those buildings and reestablished the theaters. Now those are successful businesses again.”
Cory cited as an example the Phoenix Theatres Kennedy Mall in Dubuque, Iowa, which it acquired in January 2018. The previous owners announced that they were going to close. Since taking over the location and reopening the theater in April 2019, Cory says that the theater has done so well that the company now plans to add additional screens.
“We work at a granular level to make sure that everything is right. We’re ground game people,” Cory said. “Unlike the big companies that worry about entire regions with decisions that apply to every theater, we can attend to the small details that are unique to each location. We work to become a part of the community.”
Cory wasn’t expecting to purchase the Beacon Cinema when he visited Pittsfield. The first time he visited, Berkshire Bank and the Beacon owners asked Cory and his team to analyze how the Beacon might improve its business results. With their experience running independent theaters, Phoenix is sought after for advice by exhibitors and financial institutions around the country.
“The business had dropped off a bit at the Beacon after a competitor put in recliners at their theater. So, we looked at the Beacon, made some suggestions operationally and recommended they install electric recliners,” he said.
After several years, Cory and his team came to the East Coast for another reason. They were asked by Berkshire Bank to visit to discuss the Beacon some more.
“We did not expect that anything would happen when the team and I drove out here from Michigan initially on vacation,” he said. “They asked if we would be interested in managing the theater theatere in some sort of transition period. Instead of just managing it, I asked the question, ‘how much would this go for?’ It was one of those happenstance moments.”
Cory was interested because he believed in the theater’s fundamental qualities.
“I think historic buildings in downtown areas are the future. The Beacon Cinema is at the heart of a community that is not going anywhere,” Cory said. “I think the whole downtown area has a lot of charm and a lot of renewed interest, particularly with young adults. For us, it just pulls at your heartstrings to say that this is an iconic building in an iconic location that you want to see succeed.”