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What iPic would do with the Boyd Theater

4 minute read
Hamid Hashemi President in I Pic Theater

The movie he watches most often is Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. His favorite flick is “every movie that makes money.” That’s Hamid Hashemi, founder, president, and CEO of iPic Entertainment, the group currently planning to turn Philadelphia’s historic Boyd Theater into a suburban-style multiplex with reclining seats, blankets, and gourmet snacks.

Hashemi’s interest in movies began during his childhood in Iran. “Movies were our window into the western world,” he says by phone from Florida. A third-year medical student, 19 years old, he left his native land the day before Ayatollah Khomeini took over.

“I came to the United States with $700 in my pocket, hoping to go to medical school.” He didn’t qualify as a resident for state universities and couldn’t afford private colleges. He later attended Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

“I looked into real estate and business. I earned about 220 credits in accounting and legal and eventually majored in microbiology. I have no regrets” about leaving medicine.

After graduation, Hashemi started real-estate syndications in Boca, joining with other investors to buy and upgrade properties. In 1984, he threw all his savings into a three-screen theater. “Not knowing anything about the business,” he says, “it seemed simple. I didn’t know that General Cinema Corporation [GCC], then the biggest theater owner in the country, was planning eight screens nearby.

“I got my head handed to me by GCC. So I started doing the homework I should have done before.” He visited movie theaters large and small, learning the history of the industry, figuring out why people drive past one location and buy tickets at another. Two factors differentiate what he calls “the movie experience”:

  • The physical: Size of screen, power of sound system, interior amenities, seating.
  • The personal: Popcorn and soda; friendly staff.

iPic, Hashemi’s third movie company, focuses on hospitality. “It’s all about creating memorable experiences,” he says. “We build theaters designed to transport you.” As his website says, “Come for the drinks. Stay for the movie.”

For 10 years, Hashemi looked for an affordable Philadelphia location. Two years ago, developer Neil Rodin offered Hashemi the Boyd, he says. “We had a lot of architectural and engineering input. Even if we wanted to preserve only the exterior, we could not possibly fit in eight auditoriums and make economic sense.

“So we walked away. Then Rodin called again. We have a design before the Historical Commission today, in which we preserve only the exterior and head house.” (In historic movie theaters, the head house contained ornate lobbies, foyers, lounges, auditoriums, and even some restroom lounges.) The local firm of SPG3 gets credit for the architectural design.

This building was always a movie theater, says the developer. “I don’t want to tear down the Boyd and build a condo. I want to do what the original movie palaces did: Transform you. Fulfill you.

“I love the movie business. I have visited almost every single-screen theater in this country, and I have always wanted to restore one. Sadly, the economics today is that every one that works is a nonprofit.” Hashemi is a businessman. Will he find his Holy Grail?

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The iPic Boyd will have 4K digital projectors, the most up-to-date cinema technology available, showing the movies. You can reserve tickets online or with a smartphone app. Arrive early to enjoy drinks, a snack, or dinner. You can eat and drink during the flick and presumably stay for more sustenance after. One kitchen prepares vittles for the restaurant, the food kiosks, and snacks. iPic owns the small-so-far chain of Tanzy restaurants, all in iPic theaters.

For $12 to $14 per tushie, you get an upright “premium-plus” chair, called premium seating, with a table for your nourishment. For $18 to $24, a reclining, Archie-Bunker-style-Barcalounger-type chaise allows you total relaxation, perhaps even a nap, during your favorite shoot-em-up. You receive a fleece blanket and “cuddly pillow,” presumably recently laundered. Pressing a button on your bedside table brings a waitperson to take your food and beverage order.

Indulge liberally in the free oil-laden popcorn for all.

For our interview with Howard Haas, head of the Save the Boyd organization, click here.

For a consideration of what plans make the most sense for Center City, click here.

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