Sandy Karp – IPIC Theaters LLC
- Written by: David Harry
- Produced by: Zachary Brann
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
A night at the movies is changing. In many ways, it can feel like a night at home, with cushioned recliners and blankets for snuggling. But not only is there the amazing big screen and a sound system that you can’t replicate in your living room; the popcorn is better and gourmet food and specialty drinks can be brought to your seat.
Just how COVID-19 will affect specialty movie theatres remains to be seen, but it’s a safe bet that squeezing through a row of people is becoming obsolete.
Sandy Karp, vice president of construction and development for IPIC Theaters LLC, says the industry will continue to change to keep movie goers safe and comfortable, and her company may ahead of the curve with a boutique floor plan that reduces density by design and accommodates for social distancing.
“We’re providing a unique experience,” Karp explains. “But we’re also zeroing in on safety and making it our first priority for our guests and employees, to ensure that the experience is one that is safe and sanitary.”
A belly and eyeful
In 14 locations along the East Coast as well as Texas, California and Washington, IPIC Theaters are the single stop for a night on the town—combining upscale dining with movies—in theaters seating 40 to 80 viewers, Karp says.
Seating is set in pods of two recliners with a table in between and dividers between parties. At the push of a button, “ninja servers” discretely deliver food and drinks via individual aisles leading to the pods.
The coronavirus pandemic forced IPIC theaters to close spring 2020. In early June, three locations in Texas reopened, followed by two in Illinois in early July. All are operating on a limited basis, and IPIC has temporarily paused lending blankets and pillows. Instead, customers can buy them at theaters to bring on their next visit, Karp says.
IPIC will have hand sanitizers at every entrance and auditorium, as well as thermal readers to take the temperature of all employees and guests. Staff will wear masks and gloves, while guests will be required to wear masks in common areas and when not eating or drinking.
The hygienic pinnacle is electrostatic cleaners Karp ordered to disinfect theaters with a spray that envelops the entire room. She expects them to be installed at all sites in August.
The pandemic has not slowed construction of the new nine-screen Colony Square theater complex in Atlanta or its restaurant serving northern Italian cuisine. The theater is expected to open in November and the restaurant in the first quarter of 2021. IPIC is also expanding internationally—after Karp visited Saudi Arabia in 2018, the company was approved for new luxury theaters there.
Ready to take chances
Although she never had a chance to visit his theater in Cuba, Karp is carrying on a family tradition—her grandfather owned a theater that mixed movies and live entertainment. A Philadelphia native, Karp came to theater construction and facilities management via a circuitous route after working as a personal trainer.
While assisting an architect friend, he helped her discover she could envision building plans and concepts in 3D, which in turn led her to residential construction.
Though she had no commercial construction experience, Karp was hired as construction coordinator and project manager for the Sunglass Hut and Watch Station retail chain in 1997 and immersed herself in the business.
“I was excited. I love a challenge; give one to me, I’ll do it,” Karp says. “I wanted to learn every nook and cranny of development and construction.”
In 2001, she became a project manager for RCC Associates and recalls almost immediately feeling as though she was not the right person for the job because of her lack of construction experience.
The owner did not agree and invested time and resources to help her learn the trade, and Karp later became the director of new business development and estimating. Although RCC was confident she would grow with the job, at times Karp was not welcomed as a woman in construction.
“I walked past the discomfort and rejections and the lack of confidence people had in me because I had the support and mentorship in place to give me the confidence that I needed,” she recalls. “You have to prove your worth, and I did. Years later, I always try to give back what was so generously given to me.”
An empowering experience
One way Karp gives back is by serving on the advisory board of Empower the Girls, an organization with the mission of providing life and personal safety skills to teens and young women, including self-defense.
“I don’t remember working with many women when I first started and I love teaching young women to be leaders,” Karp adds. “I want to pass this on because someone empowered me and didn’t allow the fact that I’m a woman to be a differentiating factor.”
Her trajectory continued in construction management when she became president of Beyond Construction Services Inc. in 2007. Karp joined IPIC as a senior director of construction in 2015 and was promoted to her current position in 2017.
“What I’ve enjoyed the most is the people and relationships I’ve developed along the way,” Karp says. “There are people I’ve worked with at Sunglass Hut and RCC Associates that I still work with today. Build the relationships and they will be with you for years.”
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