The Hollywood Theatre
“The Hollywood Theatre is not competing with Regal Cinemas,” said executive director Doug Whyte. “We see ourselves competing with everything else that’s happening on a Saturday night.”
In the three years that Concordia resident Whyte has been executive director of the historic theater on Northeast Sandy Boulevard, ticket sales have risen 50 percent. The theater offers a variety of film genres and live events that appeal to a wide array of patrons. Those patrons can now buy beer and pizza from the pie hole inside the theater connecting it to Atomic Pizza located next door.
“Pizza and beer has become as common as Coke and popcorn,” said Whyte.
With 18 years experience in the nonprofit film world, Whyte is also a documentary film maker who understands the movie industry rules about obtaining and showing films in a competitive market. “We can’t show whatever we want,” said Whyte. He also noted that Portland is the most competitive film market in the country, with more independent theaters than other major cities.
When the film industry began converting films to a digital format, Whyte used grant money to purchase digital projectors. Whyte believes film is here to stay, though, and retained the capacity to show films in 35mm, 16mm and soon 70mm, in addition to digital format.
Hollywood resident Erik Freeman said, “The Hollywood Theatre offers a great venue for live performances; the acoustics and stage are awesome. I enjoy music documentary films and the opportunity for interactive discussions with filmmakers.”
Opening in 1926, the Hollywood Theatre became the center of a vibrant community that Whyte is interested in preserving. “The theater is an asset, but the liabilities cost money,” said Whyte. There’s a $12 million restoration plan to maintain the infrastructure, but the theater is dependent on community support.
In 2012, the Hollywood Theatre used grants to establish a film-making lab, teaching filmmaking production to 160 Grant High School students. The theater also invested grants to teach a stop-motion animation workshop at Multnomah County’s Donald E. Long Detention Center for underserved youth. Although the Hollywood Theatre is uniquely non-profit, nearby independent theaters employed other business models resulting in success.
The Academy Theater
The Laurelhurst Theater and Pub, 2735 E. Burnside St., was run down when business partners and childhood friends Woody Wheeler and Prescott Allen leased it in 1999. “There wasn’t even an operable broom when we acquired it,” said Wheeler.
They’ve remodeled the lobby twice and had to replace four different heating/cooling systems and fix a lower roof that was failing. Allen acknowledged there was a lot of deferred maintenance when they opened the doors in January 2000 but the two native Portlanders valued the central location of the theater built in 1923.
The neighborhood was on the cusp of changing in 2000, and the two owners credit the impetus for change to nearby Starbucks, La Buca and Whole Foods. Street parking is available in the neighborhood; and the owners see a lot of their customers biking, walking or taking the bus to the theater. “We can bring in 1,000 people on the weekend,” said Wheeler.
“We show the best movies available, appealing to younger and older audiences. We like knowing how particular movies are doing after they’re released; we can pick and choose what we think our customers will enjoy,” said Allen.
The owners showcase films according to a theme every month: September’s choice reflects staff picks, October highlights Halloween films and November is viewer’s choice. Wheeler and Allen converted to all-digital movies about a year and a half ago. “We were apprehensive at first, but have seen improvement, both in visual and sound quality,” said Allen.
They’ve seen a steady, upward trend in ticket sales in the past decade and acknowledge concession sales as a key element to their success. They bring food into the theater from The New Deal Cafe, 5250 N.E. Halsey St., which they purchased in 2006. They sell pizza and offer 13 Oregon beers on tap, but also sell wraps and salads. “We open very few cans at the Cafe; dishes are prepared with fresh, organic ingredients,” said Wheeler.
“For less than $20, two patrons can purchase movie tickets and enjoy a meal including a glass of beer. We think it’s a good value,” said Wheeler. “Who doesn’t like pizza and beer?” added Allen.
The Academy Theater
The Academy Theater, 7818 S.E. Stark St., sells pizza from adjacent Flying Pie Pizzeria plus sushi from Miyamoto and desserts from Bipartisan Cafe, in addition to beer and wine to entice audiences to the movie house. The theater also invented the concept of offering babysitting services for movie patrons, according to owner Heyward Stewart. “Photos from the 1948 theater showed bassinets in the crying room; we staffed it with qualified childcare providers so adults, young and old, could enjoy a night out at the movies.”
Partners Heyward and Julie Stewart and Flying Pie Pizza owner Ty DuPuis renovated the run-down theater built in 1948 and reopened it in 2006, after investing $1 million, mostly for seismic upgrading.
“Before then, there were a lot of drugs and crime and little street traffic in the neighborhood. Property values have gone up, and it’s once again a safe neighborhood with thriving businesses that draw people out,” said Stewart.
They acquired brand-new projection equipment when they opened, but didn’t anticipate the studio’s demand to convert to digital. “We didn’t jump right into digital as there were initially a lot of snafus, and we thought there’d be plenty of time,” said Stewart.
This year, Fox Searchlight Pictures announced a deadline of December 2013 to convert to digital format. Stewart estimates that it will cost $120,000 to purchase new equipment and labor to install it. The partners initiated a campaign in mid-August using crowd-funding websites as the vehicle to raise money and donations may also be made through a portal on their website, academytheaterpdx.com.
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