Small Movie Theaters Look Beyond The Screen For New Sources of Income

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March 19, 2011; Source: Associated Press | You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, or so the saying goes. But financial challenges for historic movie theaters in Wisconsin have led these entities, at least one of which a nonprofit, to incorporate new business models and more interactive programming just to survive.

The financial challenge of showing movies in independently owned theaters is nothing new, but as competing multiplex theaters flourish, studio fees increase, and directors rely increasingly on new digital technology, the challenge is becoming more difficult to meet.

The Associated Press reports that in Wisconsin alone the number of independent movie theaters has dropped from a high of 500 to about 150 at present and that more closings may be on the way. As examples of innovative solutions to these challenges, the AP cites one theater that charges a $65 fee for four people to play PlayStation and Nintendo on screen for two hours with unlimited popcorn and soda, and another that has established an ownership agreement with its home city that covers capital improvements on rotating years.

Still, the Al Ringling Theatre in Baraboo, built in 1915 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, and that uses the tagline “America’s Prettiest Playhouse,” seems to have found success by going back to its roots. The theater now features classic films along with concerts, dance recitals, plays and acting classes. Explaining his guiding philosophy for the nonprofit theater that he oversees, executive director, Brian Heller, told the AP, “We are keeping with Al’s original vision (of the organization) as an asset for the community.”—Anne Eigeman