Lost Theaters, Lost Revenues…

Culver Uptown Cinema picture borrowed from www. maxinkuckee.history.pasttracker.com

There was a recent discussion on LinkedIn about the value of small town theaters.  It linked to another article here.  Both made some interesting points that apply to Culver and Marshall County.  Culver’s theater, most recently the Uptown Cinema (Formerly the Lakeside Cinema and before that the El Rancho Theater in my lifetime.), shutdown several years ago citing costs for upgrading to digital projectors as a major factor.  Around the county, the Princess (or Lido) theater in Argos closed years ago and the same for Bourbon’s Comet and Gem theaters.  The Rees Theater (picture here) is no longer operational in downtown Plymouth.    The Tri-Way Drive-in Theatre has cited the digital projector issue as a potential obstacle to their continued operation.  (More on Tri-Way’s upgrade costs here.)

The article and LinkedIn discussion make some interesting points.  Despite the ready availability of movies piped directly into our home TVs, there is something to be said about making a movie viewing experience an event.  There are some movie previews that cause Becky and I to turn to each other and say, “That one looks like it would be better on the big screen!”  And because the trip to the big screen means going to another community, we often combine it with a meal out, sometimes meeting with friends and maybe a shopping trip before hand.  That involves dollars that are going out of community and into another.

Edgewater Grille image borrowed from www.maxinkuckee.history.pasttracker.com

Edgewater Grille image borrowed from www.maxinkuckee.history.pasttracker.com

Prior to closing, the Uptown Cinema in Culver held several “Dinner and a Movie” events that were held in conjunction with the Edgewater Grille (now The Lakehouse Grille).  The combination helped both businesses and served to make it an evening out event for patrons.  I can’t help but believe that the afternoon matinees at the Uptown Cinema brought more Culver Academy students into town.  The student traffic that we used to see on Lakeshore Drive and Main Street has been reduced, though  there’s no doubt that the Family Dollar Store on the north side of town has contributed to that as well.

The closing of the Uptown Cinema and the Rees Theater both occurred during the recent economic downturn.  That makes it a bit difficult to tie lost sales from the downtown restaurants to these events, but I would surmise that the loss of these destinations are another factor.

During a recent interview with an economic development director from another state, he discussed how his community had purchased the local theater.   They then provided a reduced cost lease for the building to for-profit entity that ran the theater.  Part of the lease agreement was a carve out for local productions.  The for-profit company was able to make a small profit on the facility since they didn’t have the burden of the building financing.  A few jobs were provided by this as well.  The local theater company was given a home and a place to put on their productions.  The city feels that their investment in the theater building has been justified by the increased traffic in the downtown.  The theater is a destination that brings people downtown to see and shop at other businesses.  Win-Win.

Is this something that makes sense for Culver or Plymouth to do?  Possibly.  But to be successful, it would require some participation by the downtown merchants.  Downtowns that act like malls, coordinating events, keeping similar hours, etc. are more successful.  There is a reason that there is a theater in almost every mall.  Our downtowns need to foster that same synergy.

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