Movie theaters in Ann Arbor were originally located solely
downtown — the Michigan Theater, the State Theater, and the
now closed Ann Arbor 1&2. Then, when suburban life exploded and
the mall became an American icon, United Artist theaters came to
Briarwood Mall. Stores left the downtown area (like the now
bankrupt Jacobson’s) drawing crowds to the mall, but theaters
like the Michigan and State could stay afloat because they had a
niche in the movie industry showing independent films and
scheduling special events.

Laura Wong
Assistant Manager Dan Martin gets the show on the road filling popcorn. (Peter Schottenfels/Daily)
Laura Wong
The projector gears up in the Village 7 Theater, opened recently after Madstone Theater shut its doors. (Alexander Dziadosz/Daily)

At United Artist, ticket prices were expensive but it made sense
for the young population of Ann Arbor as Briarwood flourished
— shop, then relax at a movie. All seemed to be well for
United Artist until Showcase Cinemas opened on Carpenter Road in
Ypsilanti. With stadium seating, state-of-the-art sound systems,
gargantuan screens and a giant parking lot, Showcase cinemas
dominated movie viewing in Ann Arbor.

Soon, Briarwood started to decline as a mall when popular stores
left like Banana Republic and the Gap. As Showcase wowed audiences,
United Artist could not handle the competition and closed.

Over the years, Ann Arbor became the home to two more theaters,
Quality 16 on Jackson Road and The Fox Village Theater on Maple
Road. Each had a special guarantee for good business in Ann Arbor.
Quality 16 bragged cheaper prices than Showcase and drew audiences
from the other side of town while the Fox Village Theater had
discount prices for second-run movies.

With practically a theater for every kind of movie, whether
blockbuster or independent, in Ann Arbor, Briarwood seemed destined
to be theater-less until the arrival of Madstone Theater in 2002.
Madstone figured out a way to compete with major multiplexes like
Showcase and Quality as well as smaller theaters like the Michigan
and State. At Madstone, customers could escape from the clutches of
the overbearing stores like Forever 21 and American Eagle to go and
watch either an independent film or a mainstream blockbuster with
unique snacks and entertainment. The theaters were neither
comfortable nor roomy but the friendly staff and stylistic
décor provided an atmosphere worth a visit.

But once again, in 2004, Ann Arbor lost another theater.
Madstone ran into financial trouble and left Briarwood with an
empty theater space. The old home of Madstone Theater was empty for
two or three months when finally, a marquee was resurrected.
Without any renovations or remodeling, the Village 7 Theater opened
at Briarwood earlier this month. The new theater is co-owned by
brothers Phil and Greg Urrutia. Greg Urrutia already owns the Fox
Village Theater, but unlike Fox Village, the Village 7 (7 for its
seven screens) is a first-run theater with regular prices.

The main problem that the Village 7 will have to grapple with,
is if Ann Arbor already has five theaters — two multiplexes,
two old-fashioned theaters and a discount theater — why would
anyone go to a small theater at the mall?

When asked how the Village 7 would try to supersede its
predecessors and compete with Ann Arbor’s other theaters,
manager Eliza Schultz offered the company’s strong sense of
family as an answer. Schultz described the theater as “not
artsy. We’re family oriented.” She also added that the
Village 7 was cheaper. But will $7.50 for regular prices and $6.50
for students be cheap enough for a theater with small screens and
thin walls?

The theater itself is not anything special — it has both
flaws and bonuses. The Village 7 has the staple movie snacks
(popcorn, soda and candy) but with loads of combos as a perk. The
actual theaters are so squished in the small space that you can
hear the movie next door. At least the movie pre-show is not as
long and commercialized as Quality 16 and Showcase, which helps
account for a correct movie running time. One can only hope that
with regular prices, the theaters will stay more clean and
functional than its brother theater Fox Village.

With Briarwood mall’s recent renovations to the interior
and exterior as well as the addition of several new stores like
Payless, maybe it was time for a new theater. And, if business does
not go well and competition is too severe for the Village 7, there
are never a lack of theaters in Ann Arbor.

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