By Emmy Ribero
Park Plaza Cinema on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina has a unique mission statement that sets them apart from other theaters nearby. With their slogan, “Welcome Home,” they make clear their commitment to ensuring that guests can feel truly relaxed at their theater. How does the Park Plaza give moviegoers the comfort and contentment that home brings? It is one of few dog-friendly theaters in the world.
From the beginning, one of the aspects of running the Park Plaza that’s brought Lucie Mann, theater owner and operator, the most pride is its sense of community. “We’ve got people coming every weekend, a lot of people coming to every new movie. They see every movie, so we have a nice following. That’s exciting to us.”
However, being in a tourist hub like Hilton Head, Mann has to think about how to appeal to visitors. This is where the dog-friendly policy came in. “We have many people that come by and bring their friends just to meet the dogs. That always blows me away. And then we have people on vacation that will come three times in one week. I’ve seen people come five times,” Mann says.
Mann has two dogs–Abilene and Antionette–that are always in the theater. Moviegoers also have the option to bring their own dogs, which are encouraged to be calm and sleep during the movie; usually, Mann says, only moviegoers who can trust their dogs to behave bring them along. “We ask that they be under 20 pounds and that parents bring a blanket so that the movie noise will not spook doggies,” she adds. “It took a while for people to adjust [to the dog-friendly policy], as we did not advertise it for a long time. People usually would ask us first (out of respect) before they would bring their dogs. In the past couple of years, they have seen photos of visiting dogs on social, and they now bring their own.”
While the dogs are a big part of what sets Park Plaza apart, Mann still realizes the importance of selling the movie theater experience: “The movies [are] what will ultimately [bring in customers], no matter what you do.”
Being a small local theater with around 250 seats, it has been difficult for the Park Plaza to get the rights to certain movies—a frustrating situation when they know what will do well with their audience but cannot get access to it. “We know our audience. So why are the studios choosing what we’re going to get?,” she asks.
Knowing her audience is important to Mann, as it’s how Park Plaza is able to provide the comforts of home. Recently, they had customers vote between three different recliners, with the winner replacing all the seats in the auditorium. They currently have vibrant red Kiara-brand recliners that are sanitized and cleaned between every show.
“That’s what we were wanting to do, is to take away the stigma that people think of movie theaters as nasty, stinky, smelly, and we make sure that we clean constantly, between every show. We cleaned every seat that was occupied. The whole seat, the head, the arms, wherever people put their body on,” says Mann.
Each of the recliners also has a tray table, letting guests bring concessions to their seats. Among the F&B offerings is Park Plaza’s award-winning, locally sourced kettle corn, which was voted best popcorn on Hilton Head.
With a fully functioning bar, an expansive menu, and the comforts of home, Park Plaza is appealing to habitual moviegoers and non-habitual moviegoers alike, one movie experience at a time. The future of the Hilton Head cinema includes a member rewards program , coming in the next few months. Additionally, event packages are on the way that include different modes of entertainment and menus. Mann is also forming a relationship with Savannah College of Art and Design’s film department, with an eye on hosting a short film competition.