By LUKE WHITTAKER

lwhittaker@crbizjournal.com

LONG BEACH — For years, Kaarina Stotts and Tim Johnson have been the familiar faces behind two long-standing Peninsula businesses.

On Friday, Oct. 12, that all changed when Stotts, 36, and Johnson, 44, sold Pioneer Market and Chinook Country Store and became the official new owners of Neptune Theatre in Long Beach.

“With her leaving Pioneer Market, it felt like the right time for me to do the same,” Johnson said Oct. 17.

“It felt right to try something new.”

For the past 35 years, Pioneer Market — formerly Uncle Bob’s and Art’s Seafood & Deli — was owned and operated by the Stotts family, beginning with Kaarina’s father, Art, who died in 2017.

“I’ve been at the (Pioneer) store my whole life, since I was born,” said Stotts, now 36.

“I was ready for a change personally. I was the only one left. Tim has his store, but he’s also busy with a full-time job. With everything we were doing, it just seemed like too much. It was just the right time.”

Johnson owned the Chinook Country Store for five years after purchasing the business from Ed and Jackie McClure.

Increasing cost for inventory and competition from the internet compounded with rising wages and a dwindling workforce made the change and timing more appealing, Johnson said. Instead of managing 20 employees across two stores, they will now have one or two in a single location.

The first week largely was a learning experience for Stotts and Johnson as they grasp the nuances of their new industry, particularly pricing and ticket sales.

“There’s a learning curve for the movie market,” Johnson explained.

“There’s a whole underground thing that nobody knows about on how the movie system actually works. No matter what you charge, they (movie studios) take a huge percentage — up to 80 percent — of ticket sales. There’s also a minimum charge you have to pay no matter how much you make.” The upfront charge depends on the movie and how new it was, Johnson said, typically ranging from $250 to $400.

“It’s not super lucrative unless you have a ton of people coming through,” Johnson said.

In order to promote the business and make the theatre more family-friendly, the new owners have slashed admission prices.

“The prices were dropped almost in half, from $10 to $5.50 and $7.50, depending on the time,” Johnson said. Rates are further discounted for military members, students, children and seniors. They plan to accept debit and credit payments ‘as soon as the machine arrives.’

“Our goal is to be Peninsula-friendly, where anyone can come — dates, families, elderly or anyone on a fixed income,” said Stotts, who has been using online Facebook polls to gauge what changes customers would like to see, from food to future movies to show.

Based on initial requests, seating will be added to make the space more accommodating and lighting replaced to improve the ambiance, Johnson said.

While ticket sales are important, concessions are the backbone of the theater industry, an aspect Johnson and Stotts aim to expand from soda and popcorn. A “Slushie” machine, nachos, jerky, cookies and peanuts, have been added so far, but bigger plans still loom.

“We’re hoping to add beer and wine,” Stotts said.

“And a little bit of food (pizza and burgers). We’ve applied for our license.” Free movie nights and specials such as “family night” and “free popcorn night” are being considered, along with hosting seasonal sporting events as a potential attraction.

“We’re looking into promoting “Monday Night Football, where people could come and watch a game,” Johnson said. Navigating the legal copyright limits will largely determine which route the theater takes.

“There are some legalities we have to look into,” Stotts said.

“We’re hopeful to do a lot of cool things, but we have to do it a little bit at a time,” Johnson added.

Johnson and Stotts will continue to own the Tinker Towne Mall, a strip mall in Long Beach they bought and began refurbishing last winter.

Improvements at the neighboring mini-golf course and go-kart track, Fun Beach Speedway has been an inspiration, Johnson said.

“With what the (Glenn and Hillary) Trustys have done with their spaces, has made us feel like this is going to be a destination area,” he said.

“We’re excited to see what they do and we thought this was a good time.” The couple will also continue to operate Shipwreck Cove, an antique store in Chinook, but are taking time to embrace their new roles.

“We enjoy picking movies, watching trailers — eating as much popcorn as we can eat,” Johnson said.

“It’s very low stress.”

For more information and latest showings, visit neptunetwin.com

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