ShoWest bestows special honors


ShoWesters of the Year 2009: Tony and Dean Kerasotes

In 1909, when Gus Kerasotes opened a storefront nickelodeon in Springfield, Ill., moviegoing was just becoming popular. The Kerasotes family business grew with America's new pastime and by the mid-1940s his four sons had joined him in managing a growing chain of 11 theaters.

Now brothers Tony and Dean Kerasotes -- chairman-CEO and president-COO, respectively, of Kerasotes Showplace Theatres -- are being honored as ShoWesters of the Year on the centennial anniversary of their Chicago-based circuit.

Today, the third generation of Kerasoteses boasts 933 screens in 94 theaters situated in seven midwest states, Colorado and California. A growth spate marked by broad theater construction in the 1990s was capped by the acquisition of Star Cinemas' six locations in 2008.

Three projects are set for completion this year -- in Chicago, Minneapolis and a first East Coast location in Secaucus, N.J. -- to add 44 additional screens to the circuit. Future expansion depends on the banking market.

"It's a whole different world than it was year ago," Tony Kerasotes says. "The banks are watching you closely, and it's hard to get anything done. So it's tough to expand the way we would like to. As for the movies, it's all determined by the strength of the product, and it's doing well right now -- knock on wood."

The theater chain's family run history has lent a nice continuity to its operations.

"The history of the business has gotten passed from generation to generation," Dean Kerasotes says. "Some of our employees' parents also worked for us. That brings a lot of knowledge about operating our business."

The company's mission statement reflects the Kerasotes circuit's 100-year legacy: "It was Gus' love of movies and his vision for the entertainment industry that began the Kerasotes legacy. We keep his vision alive by realizing that people come to the movies to have a good time."

ShoWest Marvin Levy Award for Career Achievement in Marketing 2009: Ted Hatfield

The exhibition business is filled with executives who can boast decades of experience. But how many of them began their careers at age 11?

"I guess there were no labor laws in those days," quips Ted Hatfield, film marketing director for Regal Cinemas, who started out as a fresh-faced usher at the Paramount Theater in Hot Springs, Ark.

A 60-year industry veteran, Hatfield is as quick with a good-natured wisecrack as he is swift with a nifty idea for a theater promotion. ShoWest is recognizing his talent with this year's Marvin Levy Award for career achievement in marketing.

Hatfield served for 18 years with the now-defunct ABC-Paramount theater chain before switching to the distribution side of the business with a public relations gig at MGM in New York. That came with open-ended opportunity for stunt promos.

"Maybe the wackiest one was when we put a red carpet down Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills for the premiere of (1974 musical-tribute film) 'That's Entertainment,' " Hatfield recalls. "There were 80 limos and lots of stars such as Debbie Reynolds and Liz Taylor -- even Lassie, who seemed to have to go to the bathroom and did so in a manager's office."

Hatfield moved onto a job as vp exhibitor relations at Sony from 1991-97, and he still recalls his studio years fondly -- even if he didn't care for his title: assistant exploitation manager. "It was terrible on a business card!" he chuckles.

The Arkansas native proudly hangs a Razorback pic from his office door in Regal headquarters in Knoxville, Tenn. He joined the chain's marketing group in 1997.

"The growth at the company has been phenomenal," Hatfield says. "It's great to be with a big company but also one that has continued to be innovative and cutting-edge."