Eddie Landenberger and Ward Johnson are throwing a party nearly every night at the Parkway Theater, where classic movies, live music and podcasts and other new offerings are driving growth at the 88-year-old south Minneapolis venue.
Business is up 50% from a year ago, with more events attracting more people to the 360-seat Art Deco theater at 48th Street and S. Chicago Avenue, Johnson said.
“We’re focusing on our customer experience and the experience of our performers, making sure that we’re not only a place that people want to come to see shows but that artists want to come and perform at,” Landenberger said.
Johnson and Landenberger were friends and experienced entrepreneurs but new to the theater business when they invested $3 million to buy and extensively renovate the Parkway, which they reopened in September 2018.
The building was for sale after former owner Joe Minjares, who also operated the adjoining Pepitos restaurant, fell ill. A new location of El Burrito Mercado, the Mexican eatery on St. Paul’s West Side, leases the restaurant space from Johnson and Landenberger.
Their approach to programming events has evolved from presenting a movie or live performance on its own to adding pre-movie live sets, themed drink specials and other extras to round out the experience.
They also have taken risks, including scheduling a “zero proof” New Year’s Eve event featuring live music from local artists Haley and Lydia Liza and nonalcoholic beverages.
“Our customers seem to enjoy our bar, but we want to do some different, interesting things,” Johnson said.
Q: Why did you want to reopen the Parkway?
Landenberger: Ward lives several blocks away. I live in Kingfield. We love 48th and Chicago, so when we saw this opportunity we had this added reason to go into business here.
Johnson: We look at it as being a cultural hub trying to bring in different artists and trying to revitalize this corner of south Minneapolis. We saw it as being an important asset to the neighborhood.
Q: What are you planning in 2020?
Johnson: We’d like to continue having some big names. There’s a demand for that, and this room can work for a [cult filmmaker] John Waters show, where people want to get up close and personal with a national celebrity.
Landenberg: That show sold out in one day, so we added another that’s about to sell out as well.
Johnson: We’re also trying to build audiences for our regular series and focusing on things we’re good at: intimate concerts, interactive movies, live podcasts.
Q: Are you competing more with home streaming or with other venues?
Johnson: People can see these movies at home. What they can’t do is see them on the big screen where you’re going to share this movie with 300 other people that love this movie. So you get a little of that nostalgia but you also have this community element to it.
Landenberger: We still have a lot of fun going to public places and having common experiences with other people. So it was a personal love of live shows and especially movies that just made us want to do this.
Johnson: I don’t think we’re trying to compete with other venues as much as we’re trying to create a unique experience that maybe didn’t exist in this town before, at least at this seating capacity.
Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Lake Elmo. His e-mail is email@example.com.