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EMERGING FROM THE SHUTDOWN–Breaking One Branch, Growing Another

OAKHURST- As Anne Driscoll turned the key in the lock for the last time, she took in the sight of her empty store, touched the lime green walls and said goodbye. Together, she and Branches Books and Gifts had weathered a few storms. As of October 2020 they’d endured ten weeks of the store being closed due to the pandemic, several years of fires plaguing the town, and after being reopened for a short time this past summer of 2020, Anne realized the time had come to exit the business altogether. 

Anne receives the 2019 Business of the Year award from Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce.

The decision was one of the toughest Anne ever had to make. She gave up the bookstore, which was her passion. Although home was now Fresno, her heart remained firmly rooted in the mountain community in which she had invested much love and many hours, not only through Branches Bookstore but from volunteering for the Oakhurst Chamber of Commerce, serving as a board member for 3+ years and as one of the driving forces behind the town’s major annual event, the Oakhurst Fall Festival. 

Anne opened Branches in 2013, after Oakhurst’s previous bookstore closed its doors. She couldn’t stand the thought of Oakhurst being without a brick-and-mortar bookstore. She says, “I got a business plan together and decided to make my dream come true. This has probably been the most exciting chapter in my life. When I was small, I was obsessed with books, libraries, bookstores. Since I was always too loud and hyper to be a librarian, I chose to be a bookstore owner.”

Anne stands in the middle of the Branches Books & Gifts display floor, now closed.

She didn’t know if she’d ever be back. Her husband’s career as a Battalion Chief with the Fresno Fire Department gave Anne the feeling that she needed to keep her roots close to home during the unusual shutdown situation, rather than commuting up the hill to Oakhurst.

The moment had arrived to reinvent herself yet again, something not unfamiliar to her. She approached the challenge with optimism, a trademark of hers.

Related Story: EMERGING FROM THE SHUTDOWN: A Stone’s Throw from Closing but Never Giving Up

Fresno and the surrounding areas received Anne’s resumes, over 80 of them, with no call backs. It didn’t enter her mind to apply “up the hill.” The mountain communities’ businesses were locked down. She began to wonder if all her years of experience in marketing, publicity, business management and event planning meant nothing in today’s world. She even took to Facebook in mid-January to ask her friends to put in good words for her as she had applied for two positions at a Fresno company. The response was immediate. Seventy-eight friends took up her cause and attested to her abilities.

That tactic didn’t produce a job, but did get her the interview she’d been after. Knowing that she could indeed market and rather than sit idle (which Anne finds impossible), she revived her company, Build Media Marketing, did some consulting work, and started a blog. She says, “one of my main thrills in life is helping people brand themselves and their businesses.” She further attests that “especially after the last year, we  have the gift to rebrand ourselves and reinvigorate our businesses. It needs to be taken!”

Reading “Beetlejuice” at an “I Love Scary Movies” pop-up event in 2019.

Then, months later, she got The Call. Stacy Daly, co-owner of Yosemite Cinema reached out to Anne after seeing a post she’d made on LinkedIn stating her availability and interest in working. “Would you consider coming back up to Oakhurst?” Normally an effervescent ball of fire, Anne had become discouraged at the lack of response to all the applications she’d submitted. This was like a breath of life, going back to a community she adores to work with people she loves.

“You bet!” Anne replied. 

Thus, on May 3rd the position of Director of Partnerships, Marketing & Advertising became hers. She found herself part of the reinvention of The MET into Yosemite Cinema, helping to execute the three owner’s new creative ideas to bring the theatre back to life after its long hiatus.

Anne had known Stacy Daly, Matt Sconce, and Keith Walker, all local Oakhurst residents for many years, and she’d observed the genius of Keith and Matt as they created a vision to save Oakhurst’s only cinema, opened years before by Rusty and Sara Murphy. When the owners who bought the theatre from the Murphys closed The MET’s doors, these local boys and childhood best friends, now grown men with deep ties to the community, knew the loss would be devastating for the little town, and a huge blow to their fond childhood memories of days spent together at the movies. Stacy Daly joined the team shortly thereafter, taking the membership model to new heights and becoming a co-owner and General Manager of the cinema. 

The “Lost Boys” scene at “I Love Scary Movies.”

For years mountain residents had depended on the MET for a primary source of entertainment. The Movie Heroes, as they called their venture, put their engineering/marketing/cinematic heads together and devised a subscription plan that allowed individuals and families to pay a single price per month to enjoy first-run movies—as many as they could handle. If a member wished to sit through all the films they could fit in a day, a week or a month, they could do that, all for a single price of $19.95 per month for an individual, slightly more for a family.  That plan has now been adopted by additional theatres across the country.

Yosemite Cinema couldn’t have chosen anyone more dynamic, energetic and hardworking than Anne. Together the staff is taking the original concept and driving it even farther along. Their latest announcement introduces Hero Points, a rewards program designed to help members earn points on concession purchases to be used toward future concessions items and guest ticket purchases. This is just the beginning of announcements coming regarding upgrades to the cinema, offers, special events, and technology updates. 

After being able to return to the theater after being closed for over 14 months during the shutdown, the theatre embarked on a major renovation to the main lobby areas, concessions, digital signage and, last but certainly not least, a new name: Yosemite Cinema. The partners decided it was time to rebrand themselves into something that more truly represented who they are and the community they love. Right up Anne’s alley to provide support in that realm.

Although she confesses to some not-so-sunny moments during her long absence from Oakhurst, where she began to feel that time had passed by her skillset, she realized that the perfect opportunity for both Yosemite Cinema and herself had been waiting in the (theater) wings.

Visit Yosemite Cinema Facebook page here

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Do you or someone you know have a story to tell about how you emerged from the shutdown? Email me at naturesheart511@gmail.com. I’m always looking for a good tale.

 

 

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