South Street Sophistication: iPic’s new Fulton Market location jazzes up historic Manhattan neighborhood
New York City: the land of pizza, the land of bagels, the land of movie theatres. From the gigantic AMC and Regal outposts at Times Square to the more modest independents, denizens of the Big Apple have no shortage of options when it comes to deciding where, exactly, they’ll plunk down their hard-earned cash for the latest big-budget blockbuster or critically acclaimed indie.
Hamid Hashemi, president and CEO of iPic Theaters, knows this full well. But he’s not worried about the competition. To draw moviegoers in, a theatre must offer an exceptional experience, and exceptional experiences are what iPic is all about. And with their new Fulton Market location, the newest theatre to hit NYC, this 15-theatre-strong, luxury-oriented chain provides an experience like no other.
The Fulton Market iPic opened its doors on October 13 with an opening-night gala and accompanying screenings of Christopher Guest’s Mascots, part of iPic’s company-wide deal to bring Netflix movies to the big screen. Exhibitors skeptical of Netflix and its ability to keep potential audience members in their living rooms and out of theatres may raise their eyebrows. But for Hashimi, the Netflix deal is only one of many ways iPic is keeping up with audience tastes.
After all, he explains, Netflix isn’t competing with “out-of-home entertainment dollars” so much as it’s competing for “in-home dollars.” People will always want to go out. “Just as people go to restaurants when they can easily stay at home and cook in their own kitchen, so do people go to theatres to watch a movie, [even though] they can do so easily at home. The partnership with Netflix has been a successful one for us, and we look forward to expanding our relationship with them.”
The restaurant metaphor is a particularly apt one, as a core aspect of the iPic experience is the chain’s upscale food and beverage menu, featuring at the Fulton Market location such options as “Filet Mignon Sliders,” “Truffle Fries” and, for dessert, “Big Apple Pot Pie.” The menu was designed by three-times James Beard winner Sherry Yard, who designed the menu not just for taste, says Hashemi, but for the unique logistical requirements of the theatre setting. “Careful attention is placed on items that are conveniently designed to be eaten without fork and knife,” he notes. “Aroma, crunch and other key elements are carefully considered. Sherry also teams up with her celebrity chef friends once a month to produce new in-theatre recipes and menu items exclusively available to iPic theatre members and guests.”
Guests who opt for iPic’s Premium Plus service can enjoy chair-side delivery of food and drinks at the touch of a button. The chairs in question are push-button recliners, each of which are paired with a courtesy pillow and blanket. (We’re looking at a prime date-night opportunity for cuddle-inclined couples.) The seats in the Premium section are just as comfortable, Hashemi notes, but lack the reclining function and “push-button butler service” that Premium Plus guests enjoy. Two recent additions to the iPic family are a two-person Chaise Seat, which takes “what is ordinarily perceived as the naturally unfavorable section of a theatre”—i.e., the front row—“and turns it into a much more enjoyable experience, with comfortable reclined chaise lounge seating and a table for you to enjoy food and drinks purchased from our iPic Express counter.” Finally, there’s the futuristic-sounding Premium Plus pod seating, “the first encapsulated viewing pod in a movie theatre.”
Though the seating and food options mark iPic as a luxury experience, Hashemi clarifies that it’s an “affordable luxury experience. Our prices are higher, but not out of reach of the masses. The value proposition is so great that we often hear that we are not charging enough for the experience, rather than it being too expensive.” iPic’s customer base spans demographic ranges, as well—Hashemi defines iPic’s guests, the majority of whom are between 21 and 54 years of age, as “educated people who value their time and experience.”
The areas outside individual screening rooms also catch the eye. In keeping with the iPic style, the Fulton Market location is decorated throughout with art, here pieces in a street-art style. “New York is the birthplace of street art, and there are so many talented New York artists that it was a natural fit,” Hashemi explains. “Artists like Peter Tunney, with whom we have partnered in five locations to date, and street artists like Elle, Dasic Fernández, Joe Iurato, Mr. Nevermind, Mike Stilkey and others have all done some amazing work in this space, so much so that guests are always taking selfies in front of their work… At iPic, we create spaces that stimulate your mind and prepare you as you work your way to the auditorium to enjoy the show.”
It’s an innovative approach for an innovative chain—but then, Hashemi has always been an innovative fellow. Unlike many in the exhibition industry, he didn’t start out working in movie theatres. Originally from Iran, Hashemi moved to the United States in 1978 and subsequently embarked on a career in real estate. He bought his first movie theatre, the Movie Center III in Coral Springs, Florida, at the age of 25.
He thought the theatre business would be easy—“Someone else is making your product. How hard can it be to make popcorn? I didn’t really understand the business and its competitive elements, especially when it came to booking movies”—but was quickly disabused of his rosy-eyed notions. At roughly the same time he bought the Movie Center III, “General Cinema, the biggest circuit in the country, opened an eight-screen theatre a few miles down the street. You can guess the rest. We ended up having to bid for pictures, which is the recipe for disaster for a small operator with limited resources.” Six months down the line, Hashemi turned the Movie Center III into a dollar theatre; eventually, he had to turn it over to the landlord.
“That experience,” he recalls, “was a defining period in my career. I learned that we are not in the business of selling tickets. What we sell is memorable experiences.” After all, every theatre is more or less working with the same product. “So I have spent my entire career building theatres that are centered around the experience of going to the movies, rather than the actual movies [themselves].”
It’s working out well for him—and well for the Fulton Market iPic’s guests, who get to enjoy a truly one-of-a-kind moviegoing experience. “We couldn’t be happier about attendance and the response to date,” says Hashemi. And attendees can enjoy not just the theatre, but a revitalized South Street Seaport, of which the Fulton Market iPic is an integral part. Add in additional opportunities for shopping and dining—including iPic’s Tuck Room, a “drinking + dining den” upstairs from the theatre—and you have a newly bustling NYC neighborhood. It’s one that Hashemi is proud to contribute to. “South Street Seaport is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Manhattan, and it’s been going through a renaissance. When we were offered to be a part of the revival of this incredible part of Manhattan, we couldn’t say no.”