The Noland Fashion Square 6 theater in Independence closed this week, bringing the area’s dwindling supply of discount movie houses to zero.
The theater, at 13520 East U.S. 40, follows the Trailridge Cinema in Shawnee and the Metro North 6 in Kansas City in shutting down in recent years. For $1 or $2 a ticket, they offered second-run movies that had already played in mainstream theaters for a few weeks.
“As the old saw goes, it’s the end of an era,” said John Shipp, president of Cinema Consultants Inc., who buys and books films for several independent theaters in the area. “We all greatly lament the fact that the Noland has to close. But it was losing money. Period.”
“This is a direct result of the digital conversion,” Shipp said. “Many small independent movie houses that operate marginally in the first place have found it impossible to afford the several hundred thousand dollars necessary to convert to digital projection.” Converting the Noland would have cost $300,000, he said.
Meanwhile, Hollywood studios have been cutting back on 35 mm prints of movies. Many blockbusters are now available only digitally.
“Plus, the theater is 25 to 30 years old,” Shipp said. “To make it competitive with other theaters it would need several hundred thousand dollars” in renovations.
Theaters are just one piece of the competition, said Brian Mossman, co-owner of the Fine Arts Theatres (including the Glenwood Arts and Rio).
“The newer generation’s movie-going habits are different than that of the older generation,” he said. “They are not that particular how they view their movies. They can experience them on iPods, on their phones or through Netflix. The movie business is like a big pie, with each slice being a different way to see a movie. Those slices have gotten smaller each year. Something had to give, and unfortunately it was the dollar houses.”
It’s a trend across the country, said Paul Dergarabedian, a national movie industry analyst.
“It will be interesting to see how the marketplace deals with this,” he said. “But I really think we’ll see other options pop up. Hopefully what will happen is mainstream theaters will find a way to get those consumers into their theaters by offering midweek pricing and significant discounts to make up for the loss of the dollar houses.”
Mossman said the void will hurt low-income families the most.
“You’ve got families on a fixed income who used to be able to take a family of four to a discount movie house for a reasonable price,” he said. “Now it’s going to be a lot harder to do that. You can always rent DVDs. But it’s not the same, especially if you wanted to get out of the house. Maybe the people who used to go to the discount houses will now load their cars up and go to the drive-ins.”
The area’s three drive-in theaters — the Twin, I-70 and Boulevard — have all recently converted to digital projection and made other upgrades.
Last year, the Tivoli Cinemas in Westport and the Screenland Armour in North Kansas City waged successful Kickstarter fundraising campaigns to procure the money for digital projectors. The Armour also carved a niche for itself with specialty nights and craft beers.
Larger theaters, such as Alamo Drafthouse, AMC theaters and the new Cinetopia, are racing to provide the cushiest seats or the tastiest concessions or the most incredible sound.
Shipp believes discount movie houses could come back.
“Those theaters that are able to give moviegoers a terrific experience will be thriving and surviving. But other theaters who can’t will probably be going to some kind of a discount policy,” Shipp said. “They’re not all going to be able to survive. Down the line there will be some first-run theaters that will be converted to a discount theater.”
Theater owner Butch Rigby is not worried.
“Movie theaters are stepping up to the plate with a better experience every day,” said Rigby, who owns the Screenland Armour as well as the Screenland Crossroads, set to move into new digs at 1701 McGee St. on Aug. 1.
“Leather recliners, better seating, better sound. This is done to keep people coming. With the digital conversion, that’s just more of the same. We’re just going through a cycle right now. But it’s all for the better. And it will work itself out.”
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