Christopher Campbell's The Moviegoer - All I Want for Christmas
by Christopher Campbell
December 22, 2008
Want to buy a multiplex? In the coming weeks or months, a number of National Amusements cinemas should be up for sale (against the vote of the company's president, Shari Redstone), and because of the way the economy is right now, and with the desperation of the chain's liquidation, they could be priced at a bargain. Unfortunately, they're still going to be too expensive for the likes of me. I'm just a cinephile who would know what to do with a multiplex if I somehow acquired one. Instead, the theaters will likely be swallowed by one of the big chains, probably Regal, who only otherwise keep things the same.
When I first read that Sumner Redstone was definitely going to sell off some of National Amusement's screens (nearly 600 in the U.S., plus some in the UK), the news reports noted that the chain would only hold onto its New York and Massachusetts locations (National Amusements is based in Dedham, MA). Having grown up with their Showcase-brand cinemas in Connecticut, some of which I worked at for a significant part of my life, I immediately fantasized about purchasing one of my old haunting grounds.
Too bad the economy is just as bad for me as it is for Redstone, and no banks would even think of loaning me the money, regardless of how many years experience I have in movie theater management. Actually, Redstone obviously has it much better than me. He didn't even have to worry about paying off that $800 million debt he was supposed to settle by December 19th, which has come and gone without the media mogul having to empty his pockets. According to Business Week, there wasn't anything the banks could do about the matter. After all, Redstone already defaulted on the debt, now he just has to pay it … sometime.
Actually, the "sometime" should still be rather soon, but apparently the extension was offered in order to keep Redstone's cinema unload from being a total fire sale. So that's one strike against my chances of picking up Showcase Bridgeport for nothing. Another strike appears to be Business Week's claim that National Amusements is actually expected to keep all New England locations (and those in the UK). That would include all their cinemas I'm familiar with, except for one other training base in Virginia.
So here's what it's come down to as far as my hopes to become a movie theater owner: I'm wishing for a multiplex, of my own design, for Christmas. And I've even written the following letter to deliver to the big man up at the North Pole:
For Christmas, I would like a multiplex, no more or less than 12 screens in size, with only half of these screens being equipped with digital projectors, primarily for the capability to show 3-D films. One of those digital auditoria shall actually be an IMAX screen. Regardless of where it is located, alcohol will be available (if there's anything you can do about the antiquated ban on alcohol in New York cinemas, I would greatly appreciate it). Not all the auditoria will permit alcohol, of course, just a few that will not allow minors (who shall have one house that doesn't allow adults). All seats shall be of the large, reclining variety (for ideas, check out the movie studios' screening rooms), and the last row and first row (which shouldn't be too close to the screen) of each auditorium shall consist of couches. As for the edible concessions, the options will be rather simple. Popcorn is all that's really necessary, though because you like cookies, those shall be available, as well. By the way, you will of course have a lifetime pass.
This is what people did during the Great Depression, they would go to see a film to escape the reality of the economic turmoil that hit the homes of just about every American...We knew the cinema river was running dry...but this is a little faster than we had expected...This is just terrible news.
Carlos Bennington on Dec 22, 2008
Hey Chris, I actually work at a National Amusements Cinema in CT and believe me, you do not want Showcase Bridgeport. It's a dump.
Mike on Dec 22, 2008
Showcase Cinemas East Hartford represent!. . . .oh wait, its been closed down for a while, blankly staring at the equally depressing I-84. . . . Hmmm. Prolly for the better. . . . .
Voice Of Reason on Dec 22, 2008
Hey Mike, It's just that I worked for so long at Showcase Bridgeport, so it's what I know best. Besides, it wouldn't be a dump once I got my hands on it...
Christopher Campbell on Dec 22, 2008
Showcase near me is doing terrific. It's 16 screens and was originally a Ritz Landmark theater up until summer of '07. Still gets movies like DOUBT, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, FROST/NIXON and MILK in their first or second weeks of release (all 4 are playing there now) so I am still glad for that. Seats are also big and lots of leg room, an unusual thing too is that when you enter the auditorium, you are at the top so you don't walk up to the top row, but you are already there and work your way down if it is sold-out which is very nice. Popcorn is the best and they carry some cafe foods since the Ritz used too. They increased ticket prices to $7 though matinee and $9.50 at night, which is pricy compared to the previous prices and surrounding theaters, but not too bad. Theaters are about 180 seats each and the two big ones are near 500 so there is constantly sell-outs. Hopefully Redstone decides to keep this one considering how profitable it appears to be. I already bought my tickets in advance there for Christmas day. Last Xmas I went in at 11:00am for the first times and some showings were sold-out for the whole day.
Ryan on Dec 22, 2008
I really dont think the cinema river is running dry, its just changing. Also everything is taking a hit not just theaters
Scott McHenry on Dec 22, 2008
Hey Chris, I started at the Fourplex. Oh the stories... And Ryan....9.50, huh? We're at $10.75!
Mike on Dec 22, 2008
The interesting thing about National Amusements being based in Dedham, MA (my hometown) is, the Dedham Showcase was torn down several months ago. The land is being redeveloped into an outdoor shopping center, with an all new Showcase Cinema Deluxe theater planned as an anchor attraction. The project seems to defy the odds, in this sputtering economy; especially when I read that the company is in trouble. The building project is in it's early stages, and will not be turning any kind of tennant profits for NA for quite some time. It will be interesting to see how long the Redstones will be able to keep those wolves at bay.
Dave Lister, JMC on Dec 22, 2008
People would come from far and wide if there was a Firstshowing.net Theater...
Peloquin on Dec 23, 2008
Dave, About that shopping center. It was supposed to include their new Home Office building as well, but because of Sumner's recent troubles, they had to scrap it. Rumor has it that they're too far gone into the process, that they have to finish the shopping center and theater. Side Note: Most of the equipment is shipped in from all the theaters they've closed. Nothing new! Nice, huh?
Mike on Dec 23, 2008
Thanks for the insight, Mike. It's been 5 or 6 weeks, since I drove past the project site. It sounds like things are still going forward. The Redstones may have to settle for a smaller office space, in one of the other planned buildings. These open air shopping centers are becoming all the rage. The problem is, the Kraft family have opened several stores at the Patriot Place center (including a Showcase Cinema Deluxe theater); and the Wrentham Outlets which have been around for years, all three shopping senters will be after the same customers, in a relatively small radius. They will definitely cut into each other's business.
Dave Lister, JMC on Dec 23, 2008
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