Independents find it tough going

posted by danpetitpas on September 23, 2008 at 10:55 am

FALMOUTH, MA — A recent article in the Cape Cod Times demonstrated how difficult it is to open and run a small, independent theater these days.

The Falmouth Cinema Pub, using a dinner/cocktails concept, closed in less than 10 months after its owner spent more than $1 million on renovations. The cinema pub was housed in the old Falmouth Mall Cinemas, converting six theaters to three. The place sat 400 and served pizza, burgers, appetizers, beer and wine during the movies. But if failed to attract enough people to make it profitable.

Another nearby cinema on Cape Cod suffered a similar fate. The Buzzards Bay Theater in Bourne took seven years to open and closed just four months later

Its owner spent $165,000 to renovate his theater but it attracted only 3,000 people a month, not the 10,000 he expected, and closed.

You can read more here.

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Comments (4)

markp on September 24, 2008 at 9:06 am

I work for an independent here in New Jersey. We discuss this all the time. In the old days, (for me 1970’s and up) movies played on various runs, first, sub, dollar house etc. You would get double features at the dollar houses. Video was only Beta and VHS and not very popular. There were no computers or internet. Movies did not open on 4000 screens like they do today. The shelf life was longer for a film, it could and would return to your local cinema again, and people did not have all the other forces to keep them home like they do now (internet, cable, satellite etc). When my dad was still alive he dreamed of owning a movie theatre. I’m glad we never did, seeing how the business is today. Give it a few more years and the remaining indy’s will be pressed even harder to survive.

danpetitpas on September 24, 2008 at 12:27 pm

Every day there’s news of indie theaters closing. These two examples seem typical. Their owners really dreamed of running movie theaters, and put their life savings into them, and then closed them within a year.

I’ve been trying to figure out the economics of running a theater and every scenario just seems to come up short. You might have a run where there’s some good indie movies out and people come in, but eventually, you hit a dry spell that drains all your capital and you close.

I try to go to an indie theater near me as often as possible, but a lot of times it’s running something that’s not interesting to me. There’s been upwards of a year that I haven’t gone there because of the movie selection. The only reason the theater is still open is that the operator owns the building and collects rent from retail and office space there. Otherwise, it would have been closed years ago.

Other indies nearby have gone the non-profit route where their operators are basically paid employees of the organization, and the theaters beg for grants or donations to stay in business. It seems that indies that lease their spaces are doomed eventually. The cost of heating and rent keeps increasing while the number of moviegoers declines. Eventually, the operator gets squeezed out and has to give up.

Unless the indies can get access to programming the multiplexes can’t get or don’t want (maybe digital HD broadcasts?), the future doesn’t look too bright.

MPol on September 25, 2008 at 1:32 pm

That’s really too bad. Independent and/or non-profit movie theatres are an important part of the movie theatre landscape, so to speak, because they show films (i. e. independent films, older classics, foreign films, etc.) that the mainstream multiplex cinemas don’t. Whether many realize, or care to realize this or not, there are people who do appreciate the older classics, independent, and foreign films and wish to keep attending the movie theatre, instead of sitting home watching them on TV.

danpetitpas, your last sentence “Unless the indies can get access to programming the multiplexes can’t get or don’t want (maybe digital HD broadcasts?), the future doesn’t look too bright.” says it all in a nutshell. Thanks. You’re spot-on about that.

MPol on October 13, 2008 at 6:43 pm

Good point, movie534. That’s why even many, if not most of the independent, NON-profit movie theatres have had to play some of the more mainstream movies in order to survive.

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