Back in 2006, two close friends and long-time movie lovers, Catherine Lyness and Helene Hulse, our NJMOMpreneurs of the week, tried to make plans to see a movie together while their kids were at school. But when they couldn’t find a way to make their movie time work before the school pick-up time, it sparked an idea—a morning movie club for moms that could happen during school hours. The two became business partners to form The Matinee Club, a monthly movie series with private screenings that start at 11:30 AM, leaving plenty of time to get the kids when the 3 PM bell rings. These days, their kids are grown, and their other baby has grown too, with 6 series in 4 NJ locations and over 1000 members pre-COVID. We caught up with these Summit moms to talk about how they have pivoted during the pandemic, the charitable causes they’ve been able to support with the help of Matinee Club moms, and the local places you can find them when they’re not watching movies.
Featured photo via @thematineeclub
Tell us a little about your business. What inspired you to do this?
Catherine: The Matinee Club’s slogan “Escape to the movies while the kids are in school,” says it all. It’s a little hiatus from a busy life, a chance to meet up with friends or just to sit quietly in the dark with popcorn, enjoying a film that you wanted to see. Members join for an 8-month series that runs from October to May, which allows them to attend a “members only” 11:30 AM movie once a month. There are two films to choose from at every event. Helene and I select from the movie currently at each theater that we think will appeal to our group. Our clients pay for the season in advance, and the membership is transferable, so if a member has a conflict, they can send someone in their place.
How has The Matinee Club changed over the years?
Catherine: We’ve been able to grow the Matinee Club from one day a month in Summit, and then demand had us add a second day. Our model has always been about small neighborhood theaters and pre-COVID, had Montclair, Millburn, Chatham, and Ridgewood on our roster with 1000 members.
Helene: It’s been fun to grow and nurture this business in our community, as well as something we enjoy doing together. Over the years, there have been theaters that closed, and we’ve had to be flexible and resilient—and it’s worked out for us. We’ve also grown to incorporate community fundraising into our Matinee Club seasons.
With movie theaters shuttered thanks to the pandemic, how have you had to pivot to keep your company alive until theaters reopen?
Catherine: When COVID forced us to shut down last March and cancel the remaining three events of the season, we asked our members if they would like to donate their refunds to our local Meals-on-Wheels chapter. COVID put enormous pressure on this charity, and they were struggling. The support from our members was overwhelming, and, as a group, we were able to donate $13,000. It was so empowering for all of us to make a difference at such a difficult time. In November, we partnered with the Film Society of Summit to share a new film, Radium Girls, with our members, followed by a free zoom discussion with the film’s co-directors. It was a great experience for us, and we plan on doing more virtual film connecting in the future. Our relationship with the Film Society of Summit has been so terrific, and Lisa Reznik, the founder, has been a great friend to us and a treasured resource.
We also keep our membership and the community we’ve built connected through Instagram and Facebook postings. For months, we posted four home-viewing movie suggestions each day, and we try to spread some humor and joy with our other postings. Right now, we are looking at new and exciting ways to bring The Matinee Club back to our patrons, whether it’s back in the movie theaters or through virtual. The movies aren’t going anywhere, and neither are we. COVID has shut down so much for all of us, but it is also creating many opportunities, and Helene and I plan on finding a way to make lemonade from lemons in 2021.
What is the best thing about owning and operating your own business? What is the most challenging thing about it?
Catherine: It’s been such a fun and empowering experience for both of us. We had to learn so much—creating a website, online sales, marketing, developing and operating an LLC, designing posters and web-art, and building a charitable footprint. Some of our early marketing attempts still make us laugh, like the unfortunate popcorn suit that Helene made me wear at local fairs and street markets.
Helene: I convinced Catherine that tall people (I’m barely 5’1”) look good in anything—and I was right. She looked great in the popcorn suit and was a trooper through it all. One challenge we’ve had is reaching parents of elementary and middle school children after our children graduated from high school. This year we tried an incentive program for the PTO groups near our theaters—if a parent attended an event in a designated month, we would donate their ticket price back to their PTO. Unfortunately, Covid hit just as we were rolling that out but hopefully, we can try something like that again.
What charitable causes are you passionate about, and how do you get involved?
Catherine: Because our membership is 99 percent female, we tend to focus on Women’s causes. We had a fundraising movie event for Pathways, the breast-cancer support group through The Connection in Summit. Another favorite cause is Dress for Success, out of Madison. We had an evening fundraiser with a movie and cocktails to raise money for them. We’ve also held drives where we invite our members to come to the movies and donate their lightly used handbags and shoes. We’ve done peanut butter drives for local food pantries and diaper drives for Summit’s Area Baby Center. We also support Bridges Outreach, a Summit charity helping the homeless.
Helene: The philanthropy aspect of The Matinee Club has been very rewarding, especially given the fact that our members have always been so enthusiastic about donating and giving back to the community.
What are some of your favorite local businesses? What do you love most about them?
Catherine: A favorite is The Film Society of Summit, a not-for-profit run by our good friend, filmmaker Lisa Reznik. It brings lots of fantastic films and filmmakers to town, and we love the opportunity to meet the artists behind the scenes. Also, Sweet Nothings is the most adorable candy and gift shop. Owner Donna Puzella is the “candy queen” and always a supporter of local events and causes. Finally, Helene and I are both huge fans of Fiorino Ristorante, a Summit Italian favorite. We’ve been enjoying it for decades. The Bitici brothers have created the coziest spot where we always feel at home.
Helene: Yes, to all of those, and also to Marigolds, which is run by our friends who prepare and serve the most delicious breakfast and lunch meals. Wool & Grace is another one of our go-to’s: It’s our local knitting shop where we learned to knit and a place that motivates us to meet and knit together.
Please share your best piece of advice for a fellow NJMOMpreneur who is just starting out.
Helene: Base your business on something you love to do. Through it all—be flexible, build on your experiences, stay fresh, be creative, work with someone you love to spend time with and who makes you laugh.