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The movies return to downtown Kalamazoo

Promotional movie posters line the walls of the cinema hallway leading to the theater's auditoriums. Restroom signs are on the right side of the hallway, and an auditorium doors can be seen at the end of the hallway.
Michael Symonds
The halls of KP Cinemas display promotional posters for new movies to be released.

KP Cinemas is the fourth movie theater to operate at 180 Portage Street. The owners have years of experience in the business.

Downtown Kalamazoo once again has a movie theater. KP Cinemas opened in November after a tumultuous few years for the building on Portage Road.

Built in 2006, the movie theater on Portage Road was first home to Rave Motion Pictures, which closed in 2012. A couple years later came the Alamo Drafthouse.

A national chain, the Alamo Drafthouse is known for serving a full menu of food and alcohol at its theaters. When Kate Stenberg visited KP Cinemas in mid-November, she reminisced about the Alamo.

“Oh, I loved it; it was so much fun,” Stenberg said. “They had food they’d bring out to you in the theater, and they always had a wide variety of movies, like not just stuff that’s coming out, but even older things.”

But the Alamo Drafthouse in downtown Kalamazoo was only open for three and a half years. The reason for its closure is up for debate. According to a Kalamazoo Gazette report, the Alamo claimed it believed the building was changing hands, and that would end its lease. The owners of the building disputed this. An AMC Theater followed but closed for good in late 2020.

This fall a new company, KP Cinemas, announced it would open a theater in the building. I met Director of Operations Josh Ward as he prepared to open KP’s doors to the public in early November.

Ward planned to open the theater with traditional concessions like candy and popcorn. But Ward said KP plans to expand the menu. He plans to offer counter service, rather than sending servers into theaters as the Alamo did.

“We did find that a lot of the community people we talked to did find that a little disruptive,” Ward said. “We may go kind of toward a pager system.”

With the pager system, theater-goers’ pagers would buzz when their food is ready at the counter.

Ward and other partners in KP Cinemas have a background with various movie theater companies. Ward’s is with both Goodrich Quality Theaters and VIP Cinemas. But Ward emphasized that KP is fully independent and not affiliated with any other movie theater company.

He said the theater plans to work with the community, including the campus community at Western Michigan University, to show movies from local filmmakers that can’t be seen anywhere else.

“Our plan is to get more of those, get with connected with WMU, and if there’s a local filmmaker that wants to show their movies in theaters, try to find a way to make that happen,” Ward said.

Jesse Kooistra visited KP Cinemas the second weekend it was open to see the Martin Scorsese film “Killers of the Flower Moon” and was reminded of his childhood. From Rave Motion Pictures to KP Cinemas, Kooistra said he’s “collecting them all,” as he has visited every movie theater using the downtown space since his childhood.

“I’m really happy that there’s a theater again. I live downtown, and it will be exciting to have more things to do downtown and have more people downtown,” Kooistra said.

KP Cinemas had nine of 10 auditoriums open by the end of November. Director of Operations Josh Ward said a 10th screen was ripped, but should be fixed in time to open by Christmas.