HENDERSON — Marketplace Cinema on South Beckford Drive will fall under new ownership in the form of RCE Theaters, which will take over day-to-day operations following the death of the original owner, Michael Smith, earlier this year.
Michael’s widow, Kathy Smith, knew that a tough decision would have to be made on the future of Marketplace Cinema once Michael started getting sick. But she is confident that the theater will be in great hands with RCE Theaters once they are able to open the doors back up.
“I’ve been a banker for over 40 years and I knew that I did not want to run a theater,” Kathy said. “We talked about selling it before Michael passed, and I actually put out an advertisement on Facebook. A friend of a friend knew the family that ran RCE Theaters and they ended up reaching out to me. My heart told me that this was the family that needed the theater and I think they are going to carry on Michael’s legacy.”
Marketplace Cinema has been a staple of Vance County since the early 1990s and has showcased many of the most popular blockbuster franchises that have hit other theaters in the U.S. over the past several decades, including the “Harry Potter,” “Star Wars” and the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies.
Unlike major theater chains such as Regal Cinemas and AMC Theaters, Marketplace Cinema is a small complex that originally only contained four rooms for movies, until Michael Smith elected to expand the building to include six theaters back in 2001.
Kathy Smith said Michael always took pride in the hometown atmosphere that Marketplace Cinema provided to Vance County residents on the weekends. She added that Michael saw the expansion as a reasonable decision to keep up with the demands of local residents and film distributors.
“Michael was always after what the community wanted,” Kathy said. “He pushed to get more room inside the building based on the number of requests he received. If big companies like Disney, Fox, Sony and Lionsgate don’t think a movie will fit in this area, then they will not give us the movie.”
Marketplace Cinema will now live on under its new owner in RCE Theaters, which was created in Nov. 2013 by President and Vice President Janelle and Blaine Given, who bought their local theater in Roanoke Rapids after the original owner elected not to install a digital upgrade, which would have resulted in its closure.
RCE Theaters expanded in February 2018 to include another property in Elizabeth City.
Janelle Given said Marketplace Cinema in Henderson is an ideal location for the company to expand its focus on providing quality service to residents from small towns who are eager to watch the latest blockbuster.
“We try to provide a red-carpet experience,” Janelle said. “Our focus is on families and building memories with those families. Small communities deserve to have their small theaters survive, and our goal is to ensure that people in those small communities have somewhere to go to create memories.”
Janelle and Blaine intend to make several updates to the interior of Marketplace Cinema, but Janelle said that those upgrades will likely take place over an extended period of time as she and her staff get settled into the new location.
They’re confident the new RCE Theaters location in Henderson will thrive even with streaming services becoming more popular and COVID-19 restrictions easing around the country, with Janelle hoping to see a decent amount of traffic visit the location during the holiday season.
“We’re very excited to serve the community,” Janelle said. “We’re looking forward to a bright future here, and it’s important for the patrons to support us now even if the theater doesn’t quite look the way they want it to, so that we’re able to get these upgrades installed much faster.”
As Kathy Smith prepares to turn over ownership of Marketplace Cinema, she can not help but reflect on everything Michael did to make the location memorable for Henderson residents, whether that involved special events around Christmas and major releases, or simply going out of his way to care for the employees and customers
“Michael wanted to make sure everybody was protected,” Kathy said. “He always made sure that there was a police officer at the theater on Friday and Saturday nights.. He used to tell me to give people what they want and then worry about what was lost after the fact. I want to see [RCE Theaters] continue to love the customers like Michael did.”
RCE Theaters will initially lease Marketplace Cinema until fully taking over in mid-2021. The theater is set to open to the public on Nov. 25, with staff members abiding by CinemaSafe protocols designed to keep patrons safe during the pandemic.