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Where have all the movie theaters gone... 09 Sep 2006 03:36 #13286

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Multiplexes gobble up small houses

September 8, 2006

Movie theaters by the numbers

A few hours before the screens darkened for good, Arnold Reed stood bewildered.

"What do you mean they're closing?" Reed, 61, of Detroit said Monday outside his favorite movie theater, the Beacon East in Harper Woods. "Why would they do that?"

The Showcase Cinemas Dearborn also closed on Labor Day, the most recent victims of megaplexes sprouting up in the suburbs and drawing crowds with dozens of screens, digital sound, first-run movies and plush stadium seating.

Both theaters were operated by National Amusement, a Massachusetts-based chain that has closed seven movie houses in metro Detroit in the past four years. All told, the metro Detroit area has lost more than 100 movie theaters since the late 1980s.

The shift to megaplexes means more expensive tickets, larger crowds, longer drives for urbanites and the demise of classic movie theaters. But it also means more movie choices and show times, comfortable seating and state-of-the-art sound and pictures.

"You don't feel crowded here," Sharon Merriweather, 58, of Troy said after watching "Barnyard" with her granddaughter at the 30-screen AMC Forum in Sterling Heights. "The seats are bigger and cushier. And you have a lot of variety."

The drawn-out demise of classic movie theaters inspired Gary Ritzenthaler to launch [url=,],[/url] a Web site devoted to preserving old movie theaters in Michigan.

"Multiplexes are built like giant warehouses; they have no ambience or charm," said Ritzenthaler of Commerce Township. "You are going to wait in long lines, and you aren't going to get the classic movie-going experience."

The battle for box office bucks has endangered the Shores Theatre, a 70-year-old movie house with two screens in downtown St. Clair Shores. Owner Bruce Ferguson said his theater's survival depends on adding more screens, an expansion that city officials have shelved indefinitely.

It's difficult for smaller movie houses like the Shores Theatre -- which charges $5 and $7 a ticket -- to compete because studios require first-run films to be shown up to six consecutive weeks. A larger theater can absorb longer showings while still offering other options.

"Movie companies want you to hold a movie for a long time, even if it bombs, so it can really hurt a small theater," said Dave Tolfree, general manager of the Shores Theatre. "It's really hard to compete with 15, 20 screens."

Even theaters with up to eight screens are falling victim to the spiffier megaplexes. Since 2000, at least 11 multiplexes have closed in metro Detroit.

At least two megaplexes are planned for Macomb County suburbs -- Shelby Township and Clinton Township -- by next year, and developers in Oakland County are hoping to build large theaters in Rochester and Bloomfield Hills.

The demise of smaller, low-profit cinemas and the rise of megaplexes mirror a national trend. Between 1995 and 2005, the number of movie theaters in the United States fell from 7,151 to 5,713, while the number of screens rose from 26,995 to 37,092 during the same period, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners.

MJR Theaters, an Oak Park-based company, has adapted to survive, dumping its small, discount theaters for megaplexes beginning in 1995. Since then, MJR has opened six first-run theaters with a combined 102 screens, digital sound, spacious lobbies and stadium seating. It plans to operate a 14-screen theater by October 2007 at the high-end, mixed-use Partridge Creek development in Clinton Township.

"We've tremendously upgraded the theater-going experience," owner Mike Mihalich said. "There's nothing like seeing 'King Kong' or 'Pirates of the Caribbean' on a 55-foot screen. It's special."

So how can small theaters compete?

The Penn Theatre in Plymouth, a 65-year-old movie house, reopens today after three years with the help of a nonprofit group that raised money for renovations.

Some movie houses, like the Maple Art Theatre in Bloomfield Township and Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, play independent and offbeat films that aren't likely to appear at megaplexes.

Other theaters take on new lives, turning into churches, offices and stores. After closing in 1999, the 60-year-old Berkley Theatre was converted into a drugstore with its marquee preserved.

Now a popular dance club and music venue, the 80-year-old State Theatre in Detroit used to seat 2,200 people. The Royal Oak Theater and Emerald Theater in Mt. Clemens also were turned into music venues.

Such moves don't always work out. The Roseville Theatre reopened in 2003, showing films some of the time but also doubling as a dance club and music venue. It closed less than three years later, and the bulk of the building is used as a church.

"I'd be shocked if there were 20 family-owned theaters in downtowns in Michigan," said Ritzenthaler. "It's sad."
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Re: Where have all the movie theaters gone... 09 Sep 2006 07:20 #13287

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see the book: Silent Screens

Michael Hurley
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Re: Where have all the movie theaters gone... 09 Sep 2006 21:34 #13288

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I am happy to say that our small single screen theatre is alive and well in mid-Michigan. Our attendance numbers have been down a little the last couple of years, but you must remember that our county has the highest unemployment rate of any county in the United States (I think it is about 15%). And just to the South of us is the county with the 2nd highest unemployment rate in the US. However, I think that also helps us a little because two people can come to the movie and have an 85 oz popcorn and two 32 oz drinks and only spend $13.00 (total for the admission, popcorn and drink). It would cost the same two people $13 - $15 just for admission at our two nearest competitors (each about 25 miles away in opposite directions) for an evening show.
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Re: Where have all the movie theaters gone... 10 Sep 2006 00:03 #13289

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On the occasions when we had labor issues in the small, paper mill town I came from, many businesses would suffer... except the theatre. It seemed people would still go to escape the stresses of reality.
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