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From cinema usherette to CEO

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Gladys D. King worked at Newark Cinema Center through college.

Gladys D. King is the current president of the Delaware Contractors Association and CEO of J&G Building Group, a Middletown-based specialty trade contractor that provides labor, material and equipment.

What was your first job?

When I was in high school I worked at the old Newark Cinema Center at the Newark Shopping Center as an usherette. It was my senior year in high school, 1978.

Back then, everyone would see the same movie.  There were two doors going into it and as usherettes we had flashlights. We’d help people find their seats and after the movie we’d tidy up.

We also wore these ugly uniforms – sun-kissed orange – who looks good in that? They were jumpers that we made ourselves. They gave us money for the material.

What were some of the perks?

We stood right outside the theater doors so we watched so many movies. I can’t even count how many times I saw “Close Encounters” (of the Third Kind) “¦ and the old screen was so big. I haven’t seen a screen that big since.

What did you do with your first paycheck? How did you move up the ladder?

I earned minimum wage but I can’t remember what that was ($2.65). I was probably a spender and got independent and bought my own clothes and gas for my own car.

I worked weekends and an occasional weeknight.

Then I became a cashier. I sat behind a little desk while the guy who took tickets was right there beside me. Tickets popped out of the desk when you pushed a button.

Movies for adults were $3.50. We would get rolls of half-dollars. There was no cash register, just me adding it up in my head”¦no calculator and no cash register and we used 50-cent pieces to give change back because it was quicker than two quarters.

Children’s tickets were only $1.50 so again I added the change up in my head.  I was already pretty good at that but it forced you to get really good really fast.

In college I became an assistant manager and I worked on Wednesday nights and split the shift on Sundays with another assistant manger. I worked all there all through college. I also worked the concession stand.

What were some of the lessons you learned from your work at Newark Cinema Center?

I learned that hard work got rewarded, especially if you showed up for work, ready for work, and didn’t mind doing menial things. I learned responsibility and hard work and the owners acknowledged it.

I started as an usherette and by my second year in college I was assistant manager.

There’s a group of us that worked together all through college, we all had that work ethic and longevity. We just kept plugging along. 

Kudos to the owners who made it a really good work environment. And after my first year they changed the uniform to black slacks and red aprons. That was a good thing.

Gladys D. King used to wear a bright orange uniform and carry a little flashlight as an usherette at the old Newark Cinema Center. Today she is CEO of a specialty trade contractor and president of the state association. 

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