Four Generations of Cinema at B&B Theatres

by Camille Borodey

During the pandemic and shut-downs when theatres were forced to close, the owners of B&B Theatres were committed to paying their employees’ health insurance, so they started a ‘Curbside Popcorn’ program where people could order popcorn to go.

“I had the chance to work one of these events, and it was heartwarming and inspiring to see the community show up to support us,” Paul Farnsworth, director of public relations for B&B, said. “Lines wrapped around the parking lot and into the streets. Not only were our owners walking the walk, but the community was showing us that the theater matters to them. It was a long and hard day, but a very meaningful experience for me.”

B&B’s commitment to its team members and community dates back to 1924 in Salisbury, MO when Elmer Bills Sr. founded Bills Theatre, where he also met his wife, Johnnie, who played the piano for silent movies. Bills hired 10-year old Sterling Bagby as a concession clerk in 1936. After serving in WW2, Bagby formed The Bagby Traveling Picture Show with his wife, Pauline. They screened movies in barns, schools, and parks before eventually expanding to permanent locations in Kansas City.

The Bills and Bagby families maintained strong relationships over time and formally merged their theatre companies in 1980. The same year B&B was made official, Sterling and Pauline’s son, Bob, married Elmer and Johnnie’s granddaughter, Bridget. Continuing the family legacy, Bob and Bridget’s children, Bobbie, Brittanie, and Brock, are still heavily involved with operations within B&B.

Paul Farnsworth has been with B&B Theatres since 2008, when he was an undergraduate at Missouri Southern. He currently works at the corporate headquarters in Liberty, MO.

“First and foremost, I love the B&B family. I work with and for some of the most creative, fun, interesting, and genuine people I’ve ever met. Going to work is a pleasure,” Farnsworth said.

B&B Theatres has 55 locations in 13 states, including Airway Heights next to Northern Quest Casino. With DOLBY 7.1 Surround Sound and digital sound, luxury electric recliner seating, and a variety of delicious food and refreshments to enjoy, this fourth-generation family-owned theatre promises an innovative and luxury movie experience while maintaining its family roots.

“We are a large company but still operate with small-town sensibilities. Decency, transparency, hard work, and quality are hallmarks of our brand,” Farnsworth said.

Colten Weldy, General Manager, B&B Theater, Airway Heights

Colten Weldy, General Manager at the Airway Heights location, worked for the company right after high school and returned to B&B in September 2020, working as General Manager at the Hannibal, MO location before he eventually relocated to Washington.

Weldy’s favorite part of working for B&B is “getting to work in the industry that brings so much enjoyment into individual lives.”

Both Farnsworth and Weldy agree that the Core Values of B&B are what separates them from other theatre chains.

“Our core values: Family, Fun, Joy, Innovation, and Integrity. How we as a company work to embody those values in all our interactions with guests and how we run the business,” Weldy said.

Farnsworth adds, “It is our hope that guests will come to expect to see these values in action when they visit our best-in-class facilities and experience our service-oriented style and approach.”

Movies theatres have faced many challenges in the past two years, but Weldy notes that they’ve been able to adapt to changes in the industry.

“Through our steadfast leadership from the owners, the Bagby family, we found successful ways to open our doors to the public without putting individuals at risk,” Weldy said.

From midwest beginnings, B&B Theatres is now the 6th largest theatre chain in the country. Farnsworth says it’s been exciting to see the company grow the past 14 years, and with upcoming movie releases, he’s optimistic the rest of the year and 2022 will be strong for B&B.

“The theater business is just fun!” Farnsworth said. “We get to bring the magic of the movies to individuals and families in incredible communities across the country. It is a joy to see folks come to our facilities and escape into the magic of cinema.”

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