The Senator Theatre in transition

posted by Maximillian Genus on December 22, 2008 at 7:54 am

BALTIMORE, MD — A community meeting was held last evening about transition plans to turn the Baltimore Senator Theatre’s operations to non-profit. California-based Venuetech and local Mayfair Consulting were on hand to give a presentation, describe possibilities, challenges and ask for community input. Volunteers are now being asked to offer any services that may be helpful in moving forward with the transition.

This now appears to be the only way to ensure that the theatre’s doors remain open!

Local TV news:
Local newspaper:
Baltimore Sun

Folks interested in keeping informed about the process can sign up for the Senator’s email newsletter at the Senator Website
You are also invited to join the “Friends of The Senator Theatre” group on Facebook (news updates, photos, discussions):

Theaters in this post

Comments (35)

JohnMessick on December 22, 2008 at 8:23 am

Maybe Tom Kiefaber needs to make a roadtrip to the Lafayette theater and speak with Peter Apruzzese and company and see how they run the Lafayette.

HowardBHaas on December 22, 2008 at 8:28 am

Ok, I’ll bite. Multiplexes draw businesses away. How’s the movie theater competition compare between the two? My point is you can’t simply consider what goes on inside the theater, but must consider how the competition may limit what you can do.

JohnMessick on December 22, 2008 at 8:32 am

Maybe Tom is not a very good businessman…Has that been looked at?

Maximillian Genus
Maximillian Genus on December 22, 2008 at 8:56 am

“Film clearance” was a big issue for a while.
The closest competition is The Charles Theatre (downtown Baltimore) and AMC Towson Commons 8(multiplex a few miles north).
Although, my impression is that there is some level of dialogue between The Charles and Tom these days.

Another, the closest, was The Rotunda Cinemateque (2 screens) which Tom bought several years ago. As I understand it, having the additional screens would help cushion possible losses incurred by hosting a film at the Senator that didn’t do well, continue viewings of films no longer being shown at the Senator and possibly other reasons.

Michael Furlinger
Michael Furlinger on December 22, 2008 at 9:21 am

God i hate when they go non profit..How about put the theater up for sale ……………….

richjr37 on December 22, 2008 at 9:39 am

Why doesn’t film maker John Waters get involved? All his movies premiere here as he has stated that it’s his favorite theatre and has been since he was a kid growing up in Baltimore,which is where he set most of his most famous films.(“Pink Flamingos”,“Hairspray”,etc.)

Maximillian Genus
Maximillian Genus on December 22, 2008 at 10:30 am

There were about 200 people at the 12/18 meeting, many of whom expressed very strong feelings that the theatre remain as such. Most were community members, but I do not doubt that more prominent folks are being made aware of what is at stake.

John Lind of Venuetech spoke, in general terms, regarding ways this can and has happened by giving examples (via a slide show) of other theatres that his group has helped.

This was very encouraging, yet I have to echo the sentiment presented by some others at the meeting who felt that preserving The Senator means more than preserving its four walls. We’re also concerned for those who have been the soul of the place we’ve come to love.

Aside from what Tom stated in the local news coverage: “… its transition from my family’s stewardship & control over its day-to-day operation…”, very little has been said about what role, if any, the folks who have kept her going thus far will have to play.

Tom said he needed to “Get a life” outside of a seven day a week challenge of running the theatre. Whether that was so to soften the blow for us hardcore supporters or not, only Tom can say.

JohnMessick on December 22, 2008 at 10:32 am

Longislandmovies…what is your take on non profit?

HowardBHaas on December 22, 2008 at 11:06 am

“Film clearance” means the theater does not get the movie if it another has an exclusive. “Competition” also means other theaters show it, taking away audience from a huge single screen theater. Landmark is in Baltimore as are other theaters that may not have clearance.

Michael Furlinger
Michael Furlinger on December 22, 2008 at 5:13 pm

Non profit is often a way for a poor operator to make money.They stay on as GM & or booker for a nice salery.People donate ,NEW tax breaks AND all of a sudden there a hero for saving the theater and making a NICE FAT PAYCHECK….

JohnMessick on December 22, 2008 at 5:27 pm

My thoughts exactly longislandmovies.

HowardBHaas on December 22, 2008 at 5:36 pm

Nonprofit status often SAVES historic theaters.

I don’t mean ANY particular person on this site, but on this website, there are many back seat drivers. They don’t own the Senator nor are they bidding to be a new “for profit” owner.

Michael Furlinger
Michael Furlinger on December 22, 2008 at 5:49 pm

Nonprofits do save many historic theaters there is know doubt.That issue has nothing to do with my point.

HowardBHaas on December 22, 2008 at 6:26 pm

I stand by the 2nd paragraph of my Comment above.

Roxy on December 22, 2008 at 9:19 pm

As a theatre owner myself who has been in business for over 40 years running a very successful single screen theatre in a highly competitive area, I must admit I have never understood exactly what the problem is in running the Senator as a profitable operation.

I’ve been there, and it’s a beautiful well kept theatre. It runs, for the most part, top product. It gets tremendous publicity from the press. It’s competitive situation is no worse then other theatres that I know in simalar situations that are able to exist.

I must admit I haven’t been there in about 10 years, so I wonder what has happened to the neighborhood. Is it still a good area? Or is there a reason why people don’t want to go to that area. What is the parking situation?

Do the local folks just prefer the multiplex experience? Most of the first run film audience is relatively young. They have no connection with single screen theatres. They didn’t grow up with them. They didn’t experience them as we did. The multiplex is the social center of their universe. It’s a peer thing as well. Maybe trying to compete with the multiplex is the wrong thing to do.

The first run and art markets may be over saturated in that area. So what’s left? How about 2nd run? Are there any 2nd run theatres in Baltimore, and if there are… are there any well run ones?

The problem with many people who hang out at sites such as this one is that they seem to think that first run is the only way to go. That 2nd run is 2nd class, or subpar for some reason. They will point to examples of many old run down 2nd run theatres. Theatres that were once opulent showhouses, now pushed aside by new mega-plexes, that have gone sub-run as it is the only product that they can get cheaply, or at all, and it has become there last gasp at survival.

The fact is that there is still a large audience that can be developed for a well run 2nd run theatre. The theatre has to be made to be more important then the movies that it shows. It must become a destination point. The Senator has what it needs to be one of those theatres. Two of the best examples of what I’m talking about are the Byrd Theatre in Richmond and my theatre in Northampton, Pa.

Both of these theatres do well, and often out draw, and out gross some of the first runs in their respective markets. A good study of how those theatres operate and promote themselves might well be worth the time and consideration.

JohnMessick on December 23, 2008 at 1:30 am

Thank you RoxyVauderville for your comment. I have been to your theatre in Northampton several years back on a Sunday evening. The place was packed. Your an excellent showman.

Michael Furlinger
Michael Furlinger on December 23, 2008 at 7:42 am

Well said Roxy.I have a 3 screen that often out grosses a 12 and 8 and an 8 in our zone..With the product this theater gets i cant see how the theater cant show a profit.Friends of mine go there all the time and tell me they often have very big croweds.

markp on December 23, 2008 at 8:18 am

Exactly what I said too longislandmovies. I wish you could talk to the owners of the 2800 seat Ritz in Elizabeth N.J. Heres a treasure waiting to be used, but the owners just sit on it. And everyone tells me they have to be non-profit. I tell them why dont they just open, advertise, and maybe it can function. I’m also happy to hear your triplex out grosses these big sheetrock multiplexes. I always said give me a good 2, 3, or 4 screen theatre, and it will make money.

Michael Furlinger
Michael Furlinger on December 23, 2008 at 8:27 am

WITHIN 20 MILES I HAVE — A Regal 18 ,Regal 16,Regal 12,Regal 16,Cinamark 8 & Carmike 8 and our 3 screen.Thats 81 screens!

byrdone on December 23, 2008 at 11:50 am

Going non profit won’t do any good if they don’t have sense enough to show film that the public wants to see. Sure, the owner can love classics, silents, art films but if nobody comes he has to change to survive. We’ve tried all those at the Byrd with little success. Second run has been our bread and butter for more than 20 years. Lower admission prices mean they’ll spend more at the concession. The Byrd Theatre Foundation owns the theatre and runs it but the theatre still must cover all its operating expenses especially in todays economic situation where fund raising is very difficult. Funds raised go toward restoration only and do not subsidize operations.

Maximillian Genus
Maximillian Genus on December 24, 2008 at 6:42 am

I can’t speak for the younger generation’s tendencies to mall multiplexes, but nieces and nephews I’ve introduced to The Senator “experience” are among the theatre’s biggest fans even though they live ½ hour or more away.

Frankly, The Senator is the only place I’ve never had a problem trying to watch a film. I’ve encountered repeated nuisances on up to outright ridiculousness during screenings at the area multiplexes.

Maximillian Genus
Maximillian Genus on December 24, 2008 at 7:22 am

I’d like to thank those folks who have offered constructive opinions and suggestions.

I’m not familiar with how non-profits are run (but I expect an education is coming)…
And, I’ve never run a theatre.

From my perspective, Tom K. and his staff not only try to do whatever it takes to keep the place going (, but they’ve given back to the community time and again by hosting charity events like this November’s annual double-feature holiday food drive that brings in loads of foodstuffs for the local GEDCO “CARES” Food Pantry.

He’s also partnered with local businesses in efforts to revitalize the area:

My impression is that by turning operation over to a non-profit group not only would the place would be eligible for the breaks that come with that, but the man who suffered donations in early 2007 for the sake of the theatre wouldn’t have to endure that again…

I mean, I can imagine at some point you have to get tired of trying to make people outside of the community see the worth of the place and what it represents. Especially when some of the area’s narrow minded media and officials make it into, “Oh geeze. Tom’s got trouble with The Sentor again, anybody wanna save him?” and don’t see it’s not about him or the just the building. Anybody think the neighborhood or local businesses will be better off without it? I’ve never felt that he’s asked for a personal bailout. He’s tried to ensure the doors stay open so that everyone can continue to benefit from its presence.

Anyway, at this point in the game I won’t be surprised if it’s The Senator’s hardcore fans and community, rather than anyone with deep pockets or ‘connections’, that will help determine if the doors remain open long enough to even see the a summer 2009 title hit the screen.

Michael Furlinger
Michael Furlinger on December 24, 2008 at 9:23 am

If a theater gets a bail-out the old owners should not be allowed to take a salery under the word non -profit……………..

JohnMessick on December 24, 2008 at 11:53 am

Well said longislandmovies. Now I have a question. Lets just say he isn’t doing the business that he should be doing. Wouldn’t the studios stop sending him the films? Now, I receive his weekly emails. He seems to be getting very good films to play. Something else to look at. What is he paying himself per year?

HowardBHaas on December 24, 2008 at 2:16 pm

It is difficult to keep historic houses this size open! Many in other cities are nonprofits. There’s nothing wrong with a nonprofit organization employing an experienced theater operator, i.e. the owner.

Nobody on this site is offering to purchase the Senator & run it as a for profit.

Maximillian Genus
Maximillian Genus on December 24, 2008 at 5:49 pm

That is my impression as well, Mr. Haas.

In answer to the others:
I have word from his staff, gentlemen, that the man has forgone cashing his own paycheck for the past 20 weeks!

Anything else you’d like to insinuate?
I thought this was a site in support of theatres.

Michael Furlinger
Michael Furlinger on December 24, 2008 at 5:53 pm


Michael Furlinger
Michael Furlinger on December 24, 2008 at 5:53 pm

Theater should go up for sale or lease……

HowardBHaas on December 24, 2008 at 6:48 pm

One more time: there’s no for-profit movie operator making a bid. This is a huge historic theater with more than 800 seats, not a 375 triplex. I’ve seen movies there over the years, and wish great luck in establishing a nonprofit status that can enable this Art Deco gem to survive.

Michael Furlinger
Michael Furlinger on December 24, 2008 at 8:12 pm

The theater needs to go up for sale in order for there to be a bid. Howard ARE YOU MY BOOKER FRIEND??? Strange you know my seat count….

Michael Furlinger
Michael Furlinger on December 24, 2008 at 8:16 pm

I would more than be happy to take a look at the Senator for a sale or lease if it were up for sale.But someone wants to hold on and on..I have donated to this cause so i know of what i speak.Perhaps the bank will take it back an a new operator will have better luck.

Michael Furlinger
Michael Furlinger on December 24, 2008 at 8:23 pm

Any who …….I feel this way about many non-profits…I do not care to pick on the Senator.To many scams ….This is a time when this is part of our culture.No more free market- the only thing worse than non profit would be the city buying it.

Any way we are way to busy at the theater to keep this up for the holidays.Best to all for a HAPPY HOLIDAY!

Senator1 on January 1, 2009 at 9:03 pm


Tom Kiefaber here from The Senator. It’s disheartening to read some of the needlessly harsh comments posted from a few judgemental contributors.

Thank you for your efforts to try and provide reasoning to help ameliorate some of these edgy snap judgments. The invective and all-knowing opinions abound here without sufficient knowledge or understanding to validate them.

Thanks again for your thoughtful postings. Your friends at The Senator Theatre appreciate it a great deal.

We do have our hands full at this precarious pivotal juncture in The Senator’s rich history. Regardless, if there is anything we can do to assist you and your colleagues in your efforts to save the Boyd please let us know.

Finding that piece of carpet is one of those lucky breaks that some may not realize the significance of, but we do. What a fortuitous break that was!

See you at the movies!

Regards, Tom

Michael Furlinger
Michael Furlinger on January 2, 2009 at 9:39 am

Tom why have you not leased your theater to some new operator?This way you would still control the building. Maybe there is someone out there that would have freesh ideas on how to make a go at it.The theater I purchased was written off for dead.We now have an 98 % increase in attendance in our 1 st year.

buckharmon on January 4, 2009 at 5:05 pm

Interesting stuff, the comment that Tom Harris shared on 12/24 pertaining to the way that the local media has projected an Oh geeze,trouble at the Senator attitude is correct,and in my opinion not at all fair.I live in northern Balto. Co. and drive 40 minutes to enjoy the Senator Theatre experience.To me,the film being shown is almost secondary because of the avaliability afforded with todays technology.Anyone can have instant access to just about any movie.It’s the experience that needs to be re-created in a way that these large cinaplex operations can’t possibly do.History is on the side of the vintage theatres. I have a collection of old theatre newspaper ads from the 30’s ~ 40’s that seem to make you want to go to the movies as you read them. They created a sence of excited urgency to get to the theatre,the experience was in fact exciting and wonderful.The ads themselves gave you a visiual of the theatre grandiuer that seemed equal to the movie being shown.When I take a grouping of todays theatre advertisements and place them next to the 30’s, 40’s and even60,s ads ,its like comparing metal stud and drywall to cast plaster detailing,hand painted artwork and Deco lighting. Here’s an idea that won’t cost anything extra: Use the existing advertising budget to re-create the old way of promotion using the spirit projected by the theatre itself.Put the same effort into this creation that the original artisan’s did with theirs.Create something exciting and they will come ! The quality and effort of today must at least match the same of the past.Seeing any grade or rate movie in a drywall box is rather plain.

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