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Huntington Cinema closes doors

December 28, 2011
By Tony Rutherford (letters@graffitiwv.com) , Graffiti

Thanks for the chance to "don't dream it, be it," wrote David Driskell, the founder of Downhome Decadence, which produced the pre-show and interactive portions of the "Rocky Horror Picture Show" tradition at the Cinema in Huntington. Although some Facebook comments lament the closure and suggest "reconsideration," Derek Hyman, president of Greater Huntington Theatre Corp., indicated, it's not going to happen. "I should have closed it a year ago," Hyman revealed. "There's no way to stay open."

During its after-Pullman Square life as a "second run discount theatre," many promotions and programming variations were attempted to bring the Cinema into profitability (or near so). Admittedly, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" interactive midnight runs produced "off the wall" attendance. The "Flashback" series of gold and silver classic films worked, too.

The Cinema Exclusive series of so-called "art," foreign and independent films had a so-so response, dependent on the title offered. But negative factors and the prospect of additional hurdles pressed the decision forward. Hyman stated recently that he felt "weird" not having a theatre in Huntington, W.Va.

"I'm a little sad but it came down to having a lot more people - 10,000 to 15,000 a year - through the doors," he said.

In addition to the current losses, the transition of the movie industry to digital would have made the situation worse. Hyman explained that film companies subsidize the installation of the new generation of projectors through "virtual print fees," but they do not subsidize second-run or discount cinemas.

The Cinema used 35mm film on a platter system. The digital process consists of films as software placed into a computer management network in the projection booth. "If you don't have digital, it's going to get worse. Film is going away," Hyman explained, adding that with fewer 35mm prints in circulation the costs and competition for them will increase.

Converting the Discount Cinema to digital without film company subsidization would run just shy of $300,000. Hyman admitted that "I don't like long goodbyes," referring to withholding the decision. The shut down wasn't firmed up until about two weeks ago.

Besides the weekly, monthly or quarterly "Rocky Horror Picture Show," whose interactive performers ironically resemble the vaudevillian performers in the 1910s, when the theatre opened as the Orpheum. The Orpheum in the late 1950s played Cecil B. DeMille's "Ten Commandments," which would mark the end to racial segregation at Huntington's theaters.

Many modern classics played long runs at the Cinema, including "Star Wars," "Summer of 42," "Star Trek," "Superman: The Movie," and "2001: A Space Odyssey."

One market oddity, Ashland's three-screen Mid Town Cinema, successfully made a profitable transition from "first run" to "discount second run" after the Cinema 10 opened across from Ashland Town Center. "We never (came close) to approaching their admission numbers," Hyman revealed, even during the first year of "discount" operation when the Cinema played first-run Sony features.

Reasons for the Huntington discounters failure to replicate Ashland's numbers have no firm answers. Hyman speculated that Pullman 16 was "a bigger theater" than Ashland's Cinema 10 and that "Pullman 16" held over first-run movies longer than Cinema 10.

Otherwise, he blamed the narrowing windows between theatrical run and DVD/On Demand release, noting that the Cinema often played selections that were one to three weeks away from DVD release by Redbox, which rents for $1 a night. Hyman admitted he did not know why the venture didn't produce more moviegoers on what has been labeled the Old Main corridor, which means the second-run venture's failure, under management of those with nearly 100 years of experience, does not look favorably for anyone else making a go of the discount second-run model in Huntington.

When the exhibitor split the then-first-run Cinema into four auditoriums in the 90s and from then until 2005 (the opening of Pullman), his three traditional Fourth Avenue theatres - the Keith Albee, Camelot and Cinema - "made lots of money." Devoting energy and time to prop up the failing second-run theater took management's eyes off the chain's other profitable first-run locations - Pierce Point (Cincinnati), Fountain Place (Logan) and Park Place Stadium Cinemas (Charleston). They also have their eyes on various unnamed locations for new first-run complexes. Hyman declined to speculate on locations, explaining that the right location and terms at the right time would be the deciding factors. (On a side note, architect drawings suggest the Orpheum, which became the Cinema, was built about 1915).

Thus, Hyman quickly dismissed statements by individuals who think they could make a profit on second-run. As for the building? What do you do with a former 4-screen movie theater on Fourth Avenue? Hyman mentioned two possibilities - classrooms or a sports bar with high definition events projected on the four screens. Otherwise, Hyman doesn't have an answer for re-use of the building. "It's not a 2,000 square foot storefront," Hyman said.

Two businesses will continue to operate in the east and west front portions of the building, Hank's and the Cinema Barber Shop. At least one of the eight employees, manager Brian Cade, will remain with GHTC.

RECESSION?

Due to the increase in first-run movie prices and the rolling out of digital projection and 3D, Hyman rejects the notion that film is a recession-proof business. "Higher prices have a lot to do with it and the $1 Redbox DVD rentals."

At Pierce Point, a Cincinnati area ten screen complex, he's noticed the impact of stock market ups and downs on attendance. When the market drops, attendance falls as people become conscious of spending discretionary income when their portfolios are down. Higher prices both for admission and concessions have made attendees more selective.

Moviegoers are less inclined to purchase tickets for a marginal movie than a successful one during this economic downturn.

Finally, reflecting on the nostalgic emotions of not having an operating theater in Huntington, Hyman surmised that "If it had closed in 2005 or 2006, I would have missed it more. My business is elsewhere now. I have not been down there (to the Cinema) to see a movie in a year or two. It's not part of my daily routine," he said.

 
 

 

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