First-rate, second-run -- cinema/pub does things differently
In case you hadn't heard, movie theaters are changing.
You don't have to look far in national news headlines to see that. Take, for example, "The Reckoning: Why the Movie Business Is in Big Trouble," which ran in Variety earlier this year, or the "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette" July story titled "How movie theaters are changing with the times."
The gist of most of these articles: motion pictures alone don't sell tickets anymore — why would they, when people have cinematic flat-screens and on-demand streaming services in their homes?
The data bears that theory out. According to research put out by the Motion Picture Association of America, the number of frequent moviegoers, defined as people who go to the movies at least once per month, dropped by 10 percent between 2014 and 2015.
In response, movie theaters are adapting by turning theater-going into a luxury experience: think recliner seats, trendy cocktails, full food menus, and even bowling alleys and arcades to enjoy before or after the show.
Living Room Theaters in downtown Portland is perhaps the most extreme local example, but several theaters in Washington County have recently adapted recliner seats and revamped concessions, including Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing in Beaverton and Regal Evergreen Parkway Stadium 13 in Hillsboro.
"People want to go and eat a panini and have a chardonnay, and have a really comfy chair they can sit back in," said Casey Martin, the new manager of Valley Cinema Pub in Beaverton. "I get that. I want to do that, too. I don't have anything against those businesses. My only biff with people like that is, they should make sure they're not charging too much, and taking advantage of their customers."
Located along the Beaverton Hillsdale Highway in Beaverton, Valley Cinema Pub has been around since the 1960s. It's the kind of old, independent theater that has a lounge the size of a small bedroom at the entrance to the ladies' room, random seats roped off with construction tape because their springs have failed, a model skeleton sitting in the box office, and a real copper concessions counter that's seen better days.
In other words, it sits at the other end of the spectrum of Living Room Theaters.
Martin plans to buff and polish that counter, though. It's one of the many changes he hopes to make at Valley, a second-run theater that offers dollar tickets on Mondays and Tuesdays, and $4.75 tickets Friday through Sunday (the theater's closed Wednesdays and Thursdays).
"The more work you put into it, the more you get out of it," said Martin, who took over as manager about a month ago, after being an assistant manager for a year. He said that much of what he plans to do at Valley includes "just making it shiny and covering up stuff."
Valley is owned by Chuck Nakvasil, a native Oregonian who owns several other independent theaters in Portland, Canby, Scappoose and Madras. Nakvasil bought Valley, his only second-run theater, about 15 years ago, after it went through a stint as a Bollywood theater. The theater has been running steadily since its start in 1964, minus a few months when it was changing hands.
So how is Valley able to stay afloat in a world where films seem to be the least important aspect of movie-going?
Loyal customers, for one thing.
"I'll talk to customers that I have that are regulars, and they've been regulars since they were kids," Martin said. "They've been coming here their entire lives. And then they bring their kids here."
Martin started an Instagram account for the theater, and keeps its Facebook page active. And a recent wave of movies that did exceptionally well in first-run — including "Wonder Woman" and the latest "Guardians of the Galaxy" film — are doing just as well in the second-run arena.
"I've done nothing but see numbers go up since I took over," Martin said. "As soon as we started getting those movies, it was like yeah, we're going to be getting busy."
The licensing fees for running second-run films are significantly less expensive than for first-run, which means Valley gets to keep more ticket revenue. But Martin said large theater chains like Regal and Century still tend to over-charge on their tickets, something that irks him.
"They're profiting more on their tickets sales, because they're charging for five or six hundred percent more than cost," he said.
Like any movie theater, Valley also depends heavily on concessions revenue. The theater does serve beer and wine, and Martin recently introduced hot dogs to the menu. He's also considering selling meal passes, which would allow patrons to bring in food from outside restaurants, so as to compete with theaters that have more extensive food options.
"That's the only reason people don't let you bring in food (to theaters), because then we don't make any money," Martin said. "I try to answer every complaint with a good idea."
Among Martin's other plans: show the occasional Bollywood film, which caters to Beaverton's sizeable Indian-American community, and play more classic movies. Last Halloween, Valley hosted what was supposed to be a double-feature of "Young Frankenstein" and "The Shining," but had to cancel "The Shining" because of an obscure licensing stipulation. They ended up showing the new "Star Trek" film instead.
Martin plans to do a double-feature again this Halloween — this time, without the licensing mix-up. He might even pull off a 35-millimeter screening, if he can get all the equipment together. Old film projection equipment sits in the projection rooms at Valley, but the theater now is all digital.
"Between all the theaters, we have everything you would need to do reel-to-reel," Martin said, referring to the other theaters Nakvasil owns. "I'm working on doing that. I want to convince the upper management to do a classic movie here and there. The thing is making sure people show up for it, because otherwise you don't make any money."
But whatever changes come to Valley in the future, one thing likely will remain the same: the affordability factor. That's one advantage that becomes more and more valuable, as mainstream theaters charge more to accommodate their luxury trappings. A general admission weekend evening ticket at Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing is $11, and it's $12.50 at the Regal Evergreen Parkway Stadium in Hillsboro.
"Some people are so broke that they cannot afford ever to go to first-run theaters," Martin said. "But they can come here whenever they want to."