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TOPIC: The Question Remains: What Makes a 1-Screen Work?

The Question Remains: What Makes a 1-Screen Work? 27 Mar 2011 19:31 #35604

  • JPRM
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I have to say, getting input from everyone here has been helpful and interesting. But I'm surprised at the extent to which answers to certain questions tend to be all over the map. I've asked about the viability of buying and operating a one-screen theater. The responses range from "Add another screen" to "That's a good theater, good location...buy it!" to "Don't even think of buying it" to "First, read every post on this site..."

Now, I do value everyone's input, and I see this site as a great resource. But reading so many conflicting opinions tends to confuse rather than clarify. Mind you, I'm not starry-eyed about the prospect of getting into the theater business; it's just something I've always wanted to do and an opportunity has presented itself.

So...what I'm really hoping to find out, I guess, is: what does it take to make a one-screen theater work? Adding a screen is not an option, at least for now. I really am talking about just one, single screen. If you think it can't work, I want to hear it. But I do see several one-screen theaters still succeeding where I live (Portland, OR) and in smaller towns in the NW. These are privately owned and do indeed exist to make a profit. How do they do it?
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Re: The Question Remains: What Makes a 1-Screen Work? 27 Mar 2011 20:22 #35606

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Read this entire subject, not just my post, but all of them. Many excellent points were made throughout.

www.bigscreenbiz.com/Forums/The-Lobby/34...n-Theatre-Today.html
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Re: The Question Remains: What Makes a 1-Screen Work? 27 Mar 2011 21:41 #35608

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The following characteristics help greatly but are no guarantee:

a) a market with no competition, min. 30 miles
b) some coolness factor-Roxy's theater is majorly cool
c) the ability to offer a good value-either ticket pricing and/or concession pricing
d) if you buy the building, does it have other uses-retail space, living spaces
e) reasonable cost to buy/operate (This is where IMO, you lose big time on your opportunity due to the extremely high asking price)
f) extremely hard work by you with little expectation of gratitude
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Re: The Question Remains: What Makes a 1-Screen Work? 28 Mar 2011 03:38 #35610

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There are several things that make a single-screener successful. First, they are in no competition areas. Secondly, if they have competition then they are different in their programming and concessions and the management makes every effort to make his theatre and himslef part of the community. Find out what the demographics are in your area and then serve those demographics. There are those on this forum who believe "more screens equals better business". I don't believe that is true for every location and I sometimes believe it is an operator who is simply booking whatever Hollywood throws at him. I would be willing to put a single screener next door to a multiplex and I know I could make it suceed. There is a multiple screen mentality in the exhibition industry today that, I believe, has been detrimental to the industry at least when it comes to serving the entire community. Email me and we'll talk further. I'm down here in Medford.
Bob Allen
The Old Showman
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Re: The Question Remains: What Makes a 1-Screen Work? 01 Apr 2011 06:00 #35625

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Rpxy - what a GREAT post! I may be the only one here who doesn't know this, but where is your theater? Anyway, I completely agree with the things you mention in your post. Presentation is everything. Give people something great, something special...and they'll come back for more.
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Re: The Question Remains: What Makes a 1-Screen Work? 25 Apr 2011 02:49 #35825

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Roxy Thanks for your post in a previous topic. What you described as how you open the show and run your theater is exactly what I am wanting to bring back to a community and surrounding ones. I am glad I have found this site as I am starting to research everything that is needed to develop a solid business plan. I am hoping to put together something that will revive a theater in Robbinsdale, MN. It's the Terrace Theater, was built in 1951 at that time it had 1 screen and 1,300 seats. Was later made into a 3 screen. I worked there in the mid 90's just before they shut it down. It has been shut down since 1999. It is one of the most unique theater buildings and current owners want to make office space out of it. But funny no one has bite in the last 12 years.. Unfortuantely they did strip everything out of there, I beilieve seats and screens and even the carpet. So it is basically a shell... I am not really sure if it is possible to bring it back to life. But I am going to try along with others.
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Re: The Question Remains: What Makes a 1-Screen Work? 25 Apr 2011 04:51 #35826

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Re: The Question Remains: What Makes a 1-Screen Work? 25 Apr 2011 21:11 #35828

  • Erasmusinwv
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Hi All,
I saw all the good advice here and thought I'd ask:
There's an opportunity to buy the local one screen theater. Here are the vitals:
One screen
200 seats
$90,000 asking price
two store fronts
3 or 4 apartments
was a second run theater for some time
hasn't been run in more than ten years
needs a lot of cosmetic work
built in 1908 as Vaudeville house
Town of 2500
small college of 700
County 10,000 rural
Most of the county is over 50
competition: Elkins Cinema 6 (30 miles) Cinemark Bridgeport (25 miles) Upshur 6 (25 miles) Grafton drive-in (18 miles closed Oct-May)
Here're my ideas: Friday night around here is date night so I thought about running old Westerns, dramas, etc. for the older crowd. Sat run sci fi and horror til late for the college/high school crowd. Maybe double features? Preface movies with live show: trivia, jokes, gags, etc. Start a film club one night a month for serious discussion, like a book club. Sat. morning show old cartoons and serve cereal like when I was a kid (I'm 37).
A marketing survey I did showed 90% local and 60% out of town wanted to see it re-opened.
My problem(s): I am disabled for heart problems and on disability but while I just finished an MS degree I am not working. So money is the big issue. It sits in a flood plain and has been flooded once. The equipment, while not used is ten years old and I'd like to go digital.
Any ideas, suggestions, etc. would be very helpful. I and a lot of people hate seeing that beautiful old building decay like it has and there are many people here who don't like traveling so far with gas so high.
Thanks!
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Re: The Question Remains: What Makes a 1-Screen Work? 26 Apr 2011 02:30 #35831

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Grand Theater, Phillipi, WV???

Pros: Nice other revenue sources from apartments & retail space should pay your monthly occupancy, right? But the retail shops are empty and what about the apartments?

Keep in mind that for every movie you play during a week (even if just once) you have another guarantee of probably $250. so play 3 different movies for just one week in the same week....you pay $750 min. I do not see that working.

What do you think you will need to get the theater up and going to a min. acceptable condition?

cinematreasures.org/theater/17393/

www.philippi.org/citysite/orgsite/docume...20Final%20Report.pdf

My first thought is this place has been for sale for a few years and is still sitting empty. You need to be tough on yourself and ask you what do really know that can make this work? Small town theaters are a physical and mental labor of love. Can you physically work here?
Last Edit: 26 Apr 2011 03:22 by rufusjack.
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Re: The Question Remains: What Makes a 1-Screen Work? 26 Apr 2011 05:31 #35838

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One of the most important factors in owning a local single screen theatre is your attitude in running it. You have to become part of the community and participate in local functions, working with kids, schools, and community programs, with this, you will become a part of their lives. Welcome them in and if they can only spend x amount of dollars then charge them so, and you will be more than rewarded for it. The community will support you and be there for you.
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Re: The Question Remains: What Makes a 1-Screen Work? 26 Apr 2011 10:47 #35840

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I always get great advice from everyone's posts on here... Thank you. The theater that i am looking into restoring(not renovating)is a mess! The theater has such history in our town and its a shame that it has gotten this bad... The theater was built in 1925 it survived through the depression and WWII. My grandfather was an usher there back in the 30's. When I started doing some market research into my vision for the theater, if the people were old enough to remember it, I would always get a big smile and stories about what the theater meant to them and how great it would be for the community if it was to reopened. So, here i am now waiting for the estimates from the architect and builder, my question is this, what are the advantages/disadvantages of putting the building on the Historic Registry? Has anyone ever had a State Representative sponsor there theater in a bill? I am considering every angle possible for funding. If anyone has any other options for funding a $2+million project please let me know.... Thank you
Here is theater's Facebook page with photos and the website.

www.facebook.com/pages/The-Falls-Theater/162251807155988

www.thefallstheater.com
Last Edit: 26 Apr 2011 11:02 by hifiman.
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Re: The Question Remains: What Makes a 1-Screen Work? 26 Apr 2011 16:20 #35842

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There is a reason there are very few single screen theatres left. Can they succeed? Yes. But every one that is succeeding is doing so under very unique conditions. Step outside those conditions and your single screen may join the many thousands of closed theatres. What makes it work? I had a friend, owned a one screen. His answer "have a terrible car wreck and be permanently disabled settling for a couple of million dollars and then have your father leave you the building debt free." Beyond that you need a hard steel eyed approach or you'll be sorry. Most of the people telling you how they could do it are not doing it. Except Roxy and what can you say: they guy is in a league of his own. The keys to success for a single screen are too varied and based on local conditions to predict. The route to failure is well lighted and the routes to success are obscure.
Michael Hurley
Impresario
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Re: The Question Remains: What Makes a 1-Screen Wo 27 Apr 2011 06:19 #35846

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Just to add my 2 cents worth, I covered numerous theater openings and closings over at Cinema Treasures, and over a period of time, I saw the same theaters that had reopened with great fanfare closing after 6-18 months after draining the lifesavings of their owners. There is a reason why some theaters have been closed for a decade or more. The marketplace has changed and the economic model has changed. Audiences now expect to see movies either at a 20-screen megaplex or in their home theaters. And you have to be a genius and a gambler to be able to make a single-screen theater work. Becoming a non-profit also helps where you can get rich people to donate money to it (and never actually come to see a movie.)

Also keep in mind that walking around town and asking people if they would like to see the old theater re-open does not mean these people would actually go to the theater. Everyone would like to see an old theater re-open, but they may not come because they don't like the movies you can get, there may not be convenient parking, the admission price is too expensive, or any number of other reasons.

One big factor against re-opening an old theater is that the heating and air conditioning bills will kill your profits. The cost for energy is prohibitively expensive and people won't put up with an unheated or non-air-conditioned theater.

But probably the biggest problem is actually getting good movies. If you're too close to a megaplex, it will get all of the first-run Hollywood movies and shut you out. If you're able to get first-run movies, you will find you have to play them for a certain number of weeks. In most cases, your audience will decline by 50% a week, so you might pack your theater the first week with a Batman movie, but you're playing to a half house the second week, and a quarter house the third week. (This is why many theaters carve out a couple of small viewing rooms either in back of the stage or up in a balcony - to have a place to move movies to as the audience declines.) If the distributors would allow you to play a blockbuster movie each week, you could survive and profit, but that's not the way the game is played.

If you want to go with old movies, you have a big problem because the studios aren't making prints available of their classic films. The market is in home video and the studios aren't interested in making a measly $250 a week rental.

In my analysis, the only one and two-screen theaters that survive are the ones that have gone non-profit, or are in communities where the theater has operated continuously and the people have built up a habit of going there. In about 5% of cases where people have experienced success in re-opening a theater, the owners have had to be marketing geniuses, using their theaters for concerts and other entertainment, as well has installing cafes and restaurants in their lobbies to maximize potential profit. In almost all cases, the theater has had attached apartments, stores and/or offices that bring in money during business recessions and droughts.

I don't want to sound like a downer, but for most people re-opening an old theater is a dream that quickly turns into a nightmare. So you have to be really careful and do some solid business research into whether a theater can succeed in the market it's in. Theater admissions are actually falling each year, so you have to figure out ways of getting people into your theater, which many times involves programming something other than movies or getting into the food business. You have to have your eyes fully open if you want to re-open an old theater.
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Re: The Question Remains: What Makes a 1-Screen Wo 27 Apr 2011 13:45 #35847

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I agree with DanZee, like an earlier post I am tryig to figure out what niche I could reopen a theater in. I have already thought of the Non-profit way, marrying that with a LLC. Also the Theater I was looking at its basment is just complete dirt and could be made into a cafe', or bowling alley/food type of place to go along with the 1 -screen upstairs. Heck in fact the lobby is so huge it could have a small cafe or food servce in it too. Also on the non-profit front there are plenty of ideas I have that I believe would make the theater unique for one and be able to last for another. AS far as the Studios go, well if you can present them with something on the Charity side of the coin they may be willing to play ball. Where there's a will, there's a way, but by no means an easy or short road! I am just learning about all this and to be honest I have read enough posts already to really just want to give up before even entering the ring. Knowing your chance of "success" is slim to none, why even step in the ring? I don't know.
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Re: The Question Remains: What Makes a 1-Screen Wo 27 Apr 2011 15:02 #35848

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I agree with Dan Zee The 5% success rate is a number that I find to be a good prediction.

I really like you website Dan. Thanks for providing it.

Cheetahz, I guarantee that you are not the only person who has looked at that theater with great ideas of how to make it work This business is one odf the most difficult businesses to operate and it is now becoming a capital intensive business with digital.
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