Havre de Grace resident Christian Penrow gazed around the lobby of the new Horizon Cinemas movie theater in Aberdeen as his companion, Alicia Belcher, filled her cup at the soft-drink dispenser.
“I was ... just thinking how nice it was in here,” Penrow, 19, said. “It’s pretty modern.”
Horizon Cinemas, the second movie theater in Harford County to open under that name, opened to the public Friday afternoon in the Aberdeen Marketplace. Co-owner Bob Wienholt said Friday was the start of a “soft opening” for the theater so the staff of 30 can get acclimated — a grand opening will happen at a later date.
The first Horizon Cinemas in Harford opened in 2017, in the Fallston Village shopping center. The Aberdeen theater, which has been built in the former Mars supermarket space, is one of five operated by Wienholt and his family through the Horizon Cinemas company. The company also has theaters in Baltimore and Glen Burnie.
The eight-screen theater in Aberdeen has amenities such as stadium seating with reclining seats and attached tables on which patrons can eat, plus a room for private parties, wall-to-wall screens and surround sound.
Beer and wine sales, which also are available at the Fallston theater, are planned. A hearing on the Aberdeen theater’s liquor license is scheduled for Wednesday, March 11, at the Harford County Liquor Control Board in Bel Air.
Penrow and Belcher, also 19 and a Havre de Grace resident, visited Horizon Cinemas in Aberdeen to see “The Invisible Man.” Both were excited to have a movie theater in their area of Harford County, as they usually see films at the AMC Classic theater in Churchville.
“They needed something like this [in the area],” Belcher said. Penrow described the Aberdeen theater as “just so convenient.”
Both have been to the Horizon theater in Fallston; Belcher said “it was really nice, because they had the reclining seats.”
She also likes how patrons can choose their seats ahead of time. People can purchase tickets and choose their seats online by visiting horizoncinemas.com.
Wienholt, who resides in Forest Hill, said he is glad to be back in Aberdeen, where he operated Beards Hill Movies in The Plaza at Beards Hill shopping center from 1986 to 1998. The Beards Hill shopping center is across Route 22 from Wienholt’s current location.
“I’m blown away at how well this turned out, it really is great,” he said.
He praised the many people in Aberdeen who have worked with him over the past year to bring the project to fruition, including the shopping center landlords, the mayor, City Council members and city staff, all of whom he said are “like family to me now.”
“They did everything in their power to help me get this thing off the ground,” he said.
Wienholt, 67, has worked in the movie theater business since 1969. He grew up in the Highlandtown neighborhood of Baltimore and began working in various theaters around the city at age 15.
He expressed a love for the “blaxploitation” films of the late 1960s and ’70s, and his work in Baltimore theaters brought him into contact with actors and other celebrities associated with those films, such as singer Curtis Mayfield, whose music was featured on the soundtrack of the film “Super Fly,” and actor Fred Williamson.
Wienholt took over the operations of the Strand theater in Dundalk in 1979, and he has since built 18 movie theaters in four states. He, his wife Teresa, sons Joel and Thomas, and longtime colleague Ira Miller own the company that operates Horizon Cinemas.
Joel handles finances while Thomas handles the daily operations and technical aspects of the theaters, such as sound and picture quality. Teresa Wienholt oversaw the interior decor of the Aberdeen theater and Miller is in charge of booking movies and marketing.
“It’s exciting, because we put a lot of time, thought and hard work into the project,” said Thomas Wienholt, 37, who also was on hand for the theater opening Friday.
“When we’re finally able to show it to people, it’s gratifying,” he added.
Havre de Grace resident Megan Slunt visited the theater with her 7-year-old son, Canon. They were watching the Disney-Pixar film “Onward,” and Slunt expressed excitement about the theater’s party room.
“It’s great to gave something else to do with kids over here,” she said, noting a prior lack of places in Aberdeen where parents can bring their children for indoor entertainment.
She also praised the reclining theater seats, noting that “I think the chairs are definitely what makes it great, that we’re comfortable.”