How to buy old theater

posted by muckandmyer on October 3, 2006 at 12:25 pm

I retired from the military about 1 ½ years ago and it has been a long time dream of mine to own and operate an old-fashioned single screen movie theater. I have worked at a military base theater’s concession stand and as a movie projectionist. My question is how do I start the process of developing a business plan to aquire funding to purchase an old theater? I see there are plenty of old theaters out there. Any help would be much appreciated. Please contact me at .

Best,
Mark

Comments (11)

KenLayton
KenLayton on October 3, 2006 at 1:28 pm

Suggest checking out the forums at www.bigscreenbiz.com

ggates
ggates on October 5, 2006 at 6:30 pm

I would talk to a real estate agent too.

EmpireTheatre
EmpireTheatre on October 30, 2006 at 12:18 am

Hi Mark,

Would you would consider running my historic theatre built in 1882. We are in a New England summer resort and show first run films from May through September. I’ve owned and operated the theatre for 14 years. I’m looking for manager/projectioist to run the place.

You may be set on buying your own place, but I thought I’d ask.

Gary

jukingeo
jukingeo on November 7, 2006 at 4:10 pm

Hello GARY

Where in NE is your theatre? I was actually recently up in Vermont looking for a place to buy. But there was not much to be had there (within my price range). I wouldn’t mind working with someone until that time comes for me to get my own place, but here is the catch. Can your theatre do live shows? I have more experience in live work than with movies. Single screen theatres just don’t cut it now adays (first runs)and having the ability to put on live acts is a major asset. Having just a stage is fine, but having a full blown backstage and fly space is more ideal.

Geo

EmpireTheatre
EmpireTheatre on November 7, 2006 at 5:55 pm

t

The original stage is intact, I installed a large motorized screen, a pianist performs before the films begin. I tried live shows without much success, although I loved presenting them. I found showing nationally advertised first run films more profitable. If you’d like to discuss getting involved with my theatre, please email me at

t

EmpireTheatre
EmpireTheatre on November 7, 2006 at 5:55 pm

t

The original stage is intact, I installed a large motorized screen, a pianist performs before the films begin. I tried live shows without much success, although I loved presenting them. I found showing nationally advertised first run films more profitable. If you’d like to discuss getting involved with my theatre, please email me at

t

EmpireTheatre
EmpireTheatre on November 7, 2006 at 6:00 pm

The original stage is intact, I installed a large motorized screen, a pianist performs before the films begin. I tried live shows without much success, although I loved presenting them. I found showing nationally advertised first run films more profitable. If you’d like to discuss getting involved with my theatre, please email me at

jukingeo
jukingeo on November 7, 2006 at 7:23 pm

Hello Gary,

Ahhh, Piano accompaniment. I have seen a resurgence of theatres beginning to use organs again, which is really cool. Might go over well with silent films if there is a market for that in your community. In terms of live shows, perhaps you could conduct a focus study (survey) of your theatre goers and find out what it is that they would like to see. If you didn’t have much success with live shows…then there is a problem some place. Outside of concerts (always a major plus..requires little expense, but you can take big on the ticket sales), usually musicals and dance related shows work. But again it depends on what the locals want.

Another thing that could present a problem with live shows is if you already have a theater in your area putting them on. Usually people will travel further to see a live show and if you got one (or more) within about an hour’s drive from you…you best check out what it is they are doing. Naturally, you would just have to change your programming as not to offer something similar at the same time as one of the other theatres in the area.

Now, do you happen to have a full backstage facilities? Meaning do you have dressing rooms, private bathrooms for the performers, etc. Generally if your building was a combined movie/vaudeville house, then much of what you need is already in place. However, I do find though that these older vaudeville houses are sometimes lacking in backstage facilities and could use updating.

Approximately where are you located? What state?

I would think in terms of films, first runs are the least profitable. However, I am referring to profits in terms of ticket sales. Of course, if you pack out the house and have alot of hungry people, you certainly can make it big with the concessions.

Speaking of which, do you have a good and well presented concession area? I would assume you are probably set here, but figured I ask anyway. Usually most independant movie houses have concession areas exceeding the quality of the typical movie chain corportion, which tend to use that plastic fake popcorn instead of the freshly popped kettle popcorn. So a good concession stand will always get the people coming back. Overall good prices will too. Here in NY average movie ticket prices alone are approaching the $10 per mark. Yes, believe it or not. You want popcorn and a drink? Put another $10 on that (and this is for the plastic fake popcorn). There are very few indie houses around here. Most of the old theatres here have been converted (to retail) or torn down. :(.

JG

EmpireTheatre
EmpireTheatre on November 7, 2006 at 8:01 pm

I thought you were the retired military guy writing me back, but you’re not, areyou? My theatre is on an island, most visitors come for the beach, nature trails or to party, not for cultural offerings, at least that’s my take on things here. You wrote that live concerts made a lot of money but cost little to produce, the cost of a band people will flock to see is very high. Maybe the numbers work for a big house, but my theatre seats 300, and the numbers don’t work.

Gary

jukingeo
jukingeo on November 7, 2006 at 9:59 pm

Hello Gary,

No, I am not a military guy. I didn’t know that the theatre you want to buy is on military grounds. That part wasn’t clear.

Yes, I do stand by what I said about concerts being inexpensive to produce…provided you don’t have a headliner. If you want someone that you hear currently on the airwaves or some old favorites, then yes, be prepared to shell out the big bucks.

You probably would have to do with cover bands or tribute bands. Something very similar to what you would have at a fair or other public gathering. Granted, initial shows will not ‘pay out’ as a headliner will, but if you stick with several bands and they are good, the word will get around. So even with 300 seats, concerts and music based shows will be fairly inexpensive to produce.

Next, you should tap into the local dancing schools. Many of these arts schools are starving for a chance to perform and get a little money on the side. I am sure you can check a few places out and put together a program. Sure they are students…but many are good and a school will usually only put their very best on the line when it comes to a live show.

I will say at 300 seats, your building is what I would consider small. Generally I feel that 500 to 700 is about optimum and anything over 1000 is big (by todays standards).

Another thing you might want to look into is colleges they may assist in helping put shows and plays together.

So as you can see, there are many inexpensive routes you can go. But if you want to show Alvin Ailey Dancers, Reba McEntire, or CATS in your theatre…it probably will not happen.

Geo

NativeForestHiller
NativeForestHiller on March 20, 2008 at 9:46 am

Hi, I am a preservationist who is seeking parties that would be interested in an early 20th century Thomas Lamb theater in NY, which is currently endangered. It may be available for lease or sale. Please contact me at your earliest convenience for more information. Timing is crucial!

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