The balcony is closed, for now, at the North Riverside Park Mall movie theater, but when it reopens later this month, its new management company promises a completely renovated space and first-run movies-along with free refills on popcorn and soft drinks.

On Sept. 30, Downers Grove-based Classic Cinemas, which owns the Lake Theatre in Oak Park, took control of the mall’s movie theater operation, which includes six screens. The previous management company, Village Theaters, was ousted after the mall successfully sued to evict them. The last screening under Village Theater’s management was Sunday, Sept. 28.

“We hope to reopen, at least partially, on Oct. 24 with High School Musical 3,” said Willis Johnson, who has owned and operated Classic Cinemas since 1978. Classic Cinemas operates movie theaters throughout the Chicago suburbs, including The Lake.

The theaters are expected to be in full swing by early November when Classic Cinemas will host a grand opening.

Johnson declined to detail specific information on Classic Cinemas’ lease agreement with the mall, other than to say it’s a multi-year deal. Bea Young, general manager of North Riverside Park Mall indicated that the lease deal has not yet been finalized.

According to Johnson, mall management contacted Classic Cinemas in recent months about taking control of the theater operations and that his son, Chris, was the one who helped negotiate the deal.

“We had talked with them several years ago,” Willis Johnson said. “At the time, we didn’t go anyplace with it.”

But the North Riverside Park Mall remained an attractive option for Johnson, due to its location and its drawing power.

“It’s a nice mall and they’ve got serious traffic,” Johnson said. “I feel the market can easily support six screens.”

Johnson said that while the mall theater area is closed, Classic Cinemas will renovate it, including new decorating, carpeting, concession counters, remodeled bathrooms, upgraded seating and updated projection booths.

“It needs lots of TLC,” Johnson said, adding that the theaters will offer matinees daily starting at 11:30 a.m., year-round.

“With the kind of traffic North Riverside has, we feel it definitely needs to be a matinee house,” Johnson said.

In addition, Johnson wants better signage-both inside and outside the mall-for the theaters, which still bear signage for the Cineplex Odeon theaters, a chain that hasn’t existed since 1998.

“The signage is very important,” Johnson said. “You have to have an identity today.”

Young, the mall’s general manager, had no comment on the suit against the former theater operator, saying the legal process had not run its course yet. She did say, however, she was pleased to have been able to ink Classic Cinemas to run the theaters in coming years.

“Classic Cinemas is a great operation,” said Young. “I think they’ll bring good movies and quite a lot of professionalism.”

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