I last spoke with B&B Theatres executive vice president Brock Bagby in April as businesses across the country were shutting down in response to COVID-19. At that time all of their theatres were dark and the company had furloughed nearly 2,000 employees. I recently emailed Bagby to see if he would agree to a follow-up interview. His response was to say yes, adding, “But it’s been a rough seven months.” B&B Theatres, the sixth largest theatre chain in North America, is not just any independent cinema chain. For nearly a century, the company has understood better than most of their competitors that they don’t just show movies; they are in show business. They believe that movies are magic and their theatres amplify the experience like few others.
Crises bring out the worst and the best in people. The history of B&B Theatres began in 1924 when a man named Elmer Bills opened his first theatre in Salisbury, Missouri. A decade later he hired a boy named Sterling Bagby as a concessions clerk. Bagby eventually went on to start his own theatre company and for the next roughly forty years the families were friendly competitors. In 1980 the two families merged their companies into what is now B&B Theatres – Bills and Bagby – and the business is now run solely by the Bagby family. One thing that remained constant throughout the past century in both of those companies was the idea of family, which included their employees.
This Thursday, in conjunction with the official grand opening of B&B Theatres’ newly-built, state-of-the-art, flagship Liberty 12 location in Liberty, Missouri – the largest ScreenX auditorium in the world will open to the public. It will be located on a screen measuring more than four stories tall and seven stories wide, with the capacity to seat 244 attendees.