I own two early 1900’s-built theatres. One of them – a three-story building with offices and meeting hall on the upper floors – comprises 19,000 sq.ft. to heat, cool and light. Last year, while my heating oil usage went down, my costs actually doubled over the previous year. This year, the estimate is for the costs to double again. Five years ago, it cost $6,000 to heat the building. Now, the estimate is $35,000. We are all in this one together; theatre owners and patrons are learning the exact same math.
So, what are we to do? I know this much: My theatre can neither absorb nor offset energy prices that double in one year. Just as we assure ourselves of print deliveries so that “the show must go on,” theatres need to examine energy usage and what we can do to lower demand, conserve, and use renewable or alternative energy sources.
Last week, we began the process of energy audits for our buildings and were pleasantly surprised when the auditor noted insufficient insulation in one ceiling. Increasing it might cut demand by 50 pc. That’s change I can believe in. We’re looking at the full range of options. Our buildings were designed to be heated by coal-fired boilers so they need a huge boiler room and massive chimneys. We’re looking at wood pellet boilers, solar hot water storage tanks and every kind of controls and technology currently available. More efficient oil- or gas-boilers. Yes. Heat pumps? That’s a tough one in northern climates, but everything is on the table. Right now, I know even more about energy than I know about this November’s slate of films.
The biggest expense we are considering is new windows and doors. That makes insulation and last year’s oil bill pale; we’re looking at it because we are talking about survival. No business can endure these fuel hikes for long. Some people suggest we pass it on to movie-goers, but patrons, too, deal with the same dilemmas every day of their lives. The first good thing about this energy crisis, however, is that our patrons are staying closer to home, driving less, doing fewer vacations, and are looking for affordable entertainment. That’s movies. That’s what we do. In the very recent past, teens and other young people in our area would drive 50 miles to larger cities for a movie and a trip out of town. That kind of expense is now curbed so we are seeing more 17-to-25-year-olds at the movies than in the past. Another good thing.
Over the years, we’ve spent much time and energy thinking about Digital Cinema and Alternative Content. They’re important and will remain key issues regarding with what and how we light our screens. But now we need to focus even more intently on how we heat, light, cool and power our buildings. The more control we exercise through conservation, also upgrading technology and bringing on alternative energy sources, the more we’ll contain costs. Then we can truly focus on what we do.