It is opening night of one of the summer’s biggest blockbusters – and the action is literally coming to life. An 8-foot velociraptor roams the lobby. An imposing-looking gate beckons guests to enter Jurassic World.
“We try to make every event an event,” said Bill Barstow, co-owner of Aksarben Cinema, the Greater Omaha Chamber’s July Small Business of the Month.
For the Omaha premiere of ‘Jurassic World,’ the theatre had local artist Amanda Shannon create a metallic-looking replica of the “real” gate to Jurassic World. It also arranged a special visit by Dinky the Raptor, an 8-foot, human-powered predator.
“Opening night of “Jurassic World” was probably one of my favorite days since this theatre opened,” said marketing director Andrea Barstow.
The shared last name isn’t a coincidence. Andrea is Bill’s daughter; Aksarben Cinema is a family business, one of the last locally-owned and -operated theaters in the metro.
“It’s kind of a foreign concept, these days, that a big commercial theatre would be family-owned,” Bill said.
The family aspect of the business also includes Bill’s wife and theatre co-owner, Colleen, daughter Amy who assists in the front office and son Michael who, like Andrea, is involved in marketing.
“The family’s been involved from the beginning. It’s the only way we know how to do it,” Bill said.
Under the umbrella of Main Street Theatres Inc., the Barstows own eight theatres in Nebraska and Iowa, the first of which was a single-screen theatre in Plattsmouth. Aksarben Cinema opened in 2010, five years after developers first raised the prospect of bringing a Barstow-owned theatre to a yet-to-be-constructed, mixed-use concept called Aksarben Village.
“Bill came in an educated me on what’s possible,” said John Hughes, president of Magnum Development Corp., Aksarben Village’s Zone 5 (entertainment zone) developer. “Bill said, ‘I need 12 screens. I’ll live with 10. I won’t live with 8.’ And, we have 10 screens.”
“I came in with a lot of enthusiasm and passion,” Bill recalled. “We thought what if we made the most cutting-edge theatre not only in Omaha, not only in Nebraska but maybe in the United States. We were going to go way out on the edge of this digital revolution.”
That vision was fully realized. Aksarben Cinema – with its single master control room – offers a total digital movie-going experience for up to 1700 people as well as RealD 3D technology, the largest 3D auditorium in Omaha and a full-service bar. Despite all the cool enhancements, the Barstow family’s guiding principle is simple: treat moviegoers as if they are guests in the family living room.
“We’re entertaining people how we want to be entertained. That still drives our customer service and our culture,” Bill said.
Community involvement is another cornerstone of the company’s culture. Aksarben Cinema, in partnership with the Anti-Defamation League, has hosted free screenings of the movie “Bully” for students, parents and educators; held special showings of “Selma” on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and celebrated the contributions of the Tuskegee Airmen in conjunction with the movie “Red Tails.” The theatre also facilitates the raising of $20,000-$30,000 each year for local nonprofits.
“When you purchase your tickets, you’re asked to donate a dollar to our local nonprofit of the month, and it can range from the Anti-Defamation League to the Humane Society, Angels Among Us and the Open Door mission,” Andrea Barstow said.
For Aksarben Cinema, a devoted Chamber member, the goal for the next five years and beyond is to keep entertaining and impacting, innovating and moving forward.
“When we see something like ‘We Don’t Coast,’ we love it,” Bill said. “It’s what we do – we don’t coast. We’re not resting. We’re going to keep moving ahead and working harder than everyone else.”
Want to learn more about Aksarben Cinema? Check out the company’s website.
United Republic Bank is the sponsor of the Small Business of the Month award. View more information or nominate a small business online.