Elegance, Style and History: Joe Masher maintains the Bow Tie experience

Cinemas Features

“At Bow Tie Cinemas, our trademarked mission has always been to ‘Return Style and Elegance to the Movie Going Experience,’” assures Joe Masher, chief operating officer of the now 115-year-old circuit. “We truly endeavor to provide the best possible moviegoing experience to our patrons, with exceptionally clean facilities, well-trained managers and service teams, and optimal presentation. Our popcorn is always fresh, we do not use warmers, and we serve it with real butter at many locations. It’s core moviegoing at its absolute best!”

“Always fascinated with my family’s 8mm and 16mm projectors,” Masher knows exactly what best-in-class moviegoing entails. “I started running movies, using a 35mm carbon-arc system, when I was 11 years old,” he tells us. “A family friend had a seasonal theatre. I wanted to learn how to run the machines and then did that for a few summers.” Working next at the Mohawk Mall Cinemas in Schenectady, New York, the city where Bow Tie operates Movieland 6 today, he rose up through the ranks. Masher became the manager of several other area theatres for Loews, ending up in Manhattan for the opening of Loews Lincoln Square 12 & IMAX Theatre in 1994. Six years later, Masher joined Clearview Cinemas–not owned by Bow Tie Partners at the time–as a division manager. In 2004, with the opening of Criterion Cinemas in New Haven, Connecticut, Masher had come on board for Bow Tie, assuming his current position with the acquisition of Crown Theatres in 2006. (For more on these developments, see our main article.)

“I am truly amazed by the amount of knowledge I have gained from Charley Moss,” Masher says about the ShowEast 2015 Humanitarian Award honoree. “It is truly a pleasure to work by his side and with Ben, helping them to carry out their vision. The company did not get to be 115 years old,” he feels, without providing “our guests with the quality product that keeps them coming back time and time again.”

What good times were his personal favorites, we wondered. And what about any bad times? For Masher, “Our most exciting moments have certainly been the wonderful grand openings of the new builds that we have done at Bow Tie. My biggest nightmare? I could not tie a bow tie to save my life,” and–in the company of Charley and Ben and at a company that bears the name–“a clip-on would certainly not do. So, on the very day of our press conference announcing the new theatre in Schenectady, a huge event for that town, Ben Moss had to tie a bow tie around my neck at a diner that same morning!”

Masher may not know how to tie a bow, but he certainly knows more than a thing or two about historic movie houses. (This is an opportune moment to thank my friend Joe, once again and publicly on these pages, for many an anecdote about the places we all love and cherish, and for more than one tour of theatres turned car-repair shops.) As a longtime member and now treasurer of the Theatre Historical Society of America, Joe Masher could not be happier about operating so many wonderful Main Street movie-theatre treasures. “Bow Tie Cinemas affords me the guilty pleasure of operating several historic facilities,” he admits. “Perhaps my favorite of our historic sites is the Warner Theatre in Ridgewood, New Jersey. Many of architect Thomas Lamb’s deco features are visible and have been restored.”

Outside of Bow Tie, his “favorite theatre has always been the Loew’s Kings in Brooklyn. I was privileged to see it at its worst, and to be there for its grand reopening recently. I am also partial to Proctor’s in Troy, New York, where I saw many movies when I was growing up. It has been closed for many years, but is poised for its rebirth in the near future.”

Back at Bow Tie, “we have also done several historic renovation projects. I am the most proud of our Richmond, Virginia, complex, where Charley and Ben took a 19th-century former locomotive assembly plant and turned it into a modern-day megaplex, while restoring historic elements of the property.”

Bow Tie Cinemas is unique, he continues, “in that we operate many types of facilities–from our award-winning Movieland at Boulevard Square, and its companion Criterion Cinemas at Movieland for a combined 21-screen complex in Richmond, to our superior downtown locations including Saratoga Springs, New York; New Haven, Connecticut, and Reston, Virginia, alongside mall megaplexes and the historic Ziegfeld Theatre in Manhattan. Our recent renovation of New York City’s Chelsea Cinemas has garnered much praise from our guests, film critics and bloggers.” Speaking of those, how do you create a cohesive message under the Bow Tie umbrella? “The key to marketing all of these different types of venues is to know your audience,” Masher puts it very clearly. “We retain a lot of data on our guests through our loyalty programs. Our marketing VP, Jared Milgram, is a whiz at geo-fencing and targeting specific campaigns to specific guests.”

Following that thought, Masher says the team that Bow Tie has built over the years is responsible for their success. “I truly believe we have the best and most innovative team in the industry. Our vice president of operations, Ike Rivera, and his directors of operations are truly proud of each of their facilities. That sense of pride flows down to our general managers and guest-service associates. Our marketing and concessions teams always come up with new and exciting ways to build and retain our audiences.”

Like many of his audience members, “It has always been traditional popcorn and soda” when it comes to his favorite movie concessions. “Now that we have introduced our Jack & Harry’s Gourmet caramel and cheese corn in our theatres, though, I have got to be careful not to overindulge!”

What does Masher think is the biggest challenge to exhibition today? “Our industry has changed so much in the past few years,” he observes, “more than at any other time in its history! There are many more methods for guests to watch movies outside of the traditional theatre experience. So many that we have to do whatever we can to bring guests through our doors.”

But Masher maintains a positive outlook—and not just because “the industry has responded with luxury seating, immersive sound technology and more guest reward opportunities… I truly believe that the industry will remain strong and has a bright future. People will always value the out-of-home, shared experience of watching a movie on a giant screen. Bow Tie Cinemas will continue to grow and innovate, and explore every opportunity to improve.”