New Avalon promotions pull historic theater back from brink

Melissa Wesnidge of Grand Junction stops to read the upcoming feature presentations for Dinner and a Movie before entering the Avalon to see the Tuesday night showing of “Thelma and Louise.”

Every Tuesday night for a few months now, Avalon Theater worker Crystal Reese has seen some familiar faces.

A group of up to a dozen young women are fast becoming regulars, arriving for the theater’s “Dinner and a Movie” promotion.

They giggle. They order beer and nibble on popcorn. And as they’re leaving the show. they always offer theater workers feedback on the films.

“Even if they don’t like the movie, they always come back,” Reese said of the group. “It’s almost becoming ‘Sex and the City’-ish to see so many groups of people.”

There’s a good reason why this women’s group heads to the Main Street theater on Tuesday nights. Shows are free after patrons flash a receipt from dining out that night at any downtown restaurant.

The popularity of the films isn’t by accident. Theater promoters purposefully sought to offer folks a bargain. In light of the recession, organizers are well aware residents are more cognizant of spending on entertainment.

Working with that philosophy, movie projectionist Bryan Wade sought to bring back the classics and cult classics with the Tuesday shows that have been rolling since January.

That’s helped bring back people,

A Tuesday night record 325 people turned out for Monty Python’s “The Holy Grail” during one showing.

Moviegoers numbered into the 150s each night for subsequent showings of “The Goonies” and “The Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

The nonprofit Cinema at the Avalon last fall was forced to fold after not bringing in enough revenue with its daily showings of independent films. Now under city leadership, and thanks to the popular movies and other creative productions, the Avalon this year is showing a marginal profit in its first quarter, something that hasn’t happened in years, Wade said.

Being run by the city has helped the theater save on personnel costs by being able to transfer employees from Two River’s Convention Center.

“We’re reintroducing people to the Avalon Theatre,” Wade said.

“Certainly the Avalon has had a rough couple of years. We are really marching very methodically where we want to go.”

Showing classics and movie favorites on the big screen works because there’s little risk for patrons. They know going in they’ll like the film, Wade said. Some of the most popular films have been ones that Wade, 36, saw when he was 12.

This Tuesday, the theater will show “Spaceballs,” and on July 14 look for “King Kong.”

A showing of “Jaws” rounds out the summer on Aug. 25.

“All of this has been on purpose,” Wade said of lining up well-loved, family-friendly blockbuster flicks for the summer. “We’re trying to do this in a very fun, light-hearted way.

Going to the movies should be an experience. I remember where I was when I first saw ‘Goonies.’ ”

Although   the Tuesday movies are proving popular, the theater placed its Wednesday senior-citizen matinees on hold until the fall because of poor attendance.
Independent films are shown occasionally, with some of those moviegoers coming back after the Tuesday night showings.

And, organizers are breathing life back into the theater by planning events alongside movie showings.

They recently paired a fashion show with the showing of “Sex in the City,” headlining the event as a “Chick Flick.” A showing of “Grease” with a sing-along and hula-hoop contest rounded up 500 participants, many dressed in 1950s-era poodle skirts and rolled-up blue jeans.

Similarly, the theater sold out of tickets for a recent environmental film festival.

Moviegoers are even encouraged to participate in the showings of popular films, such as reciting oft-quoted movie lines along with the actors.

During “The Princess Bride,” crowd members booed each time the villain appeared.

The crowds, combined with the revelry that comes along with popular films, is increasing sales of concessions and alcohol, the theater’s main moneymakers.

A showing of “The Big Lebowski” produced some of the best beer sales, Wade said.

Last week, the theater was showing “Hannah Montana The Movie,” which will be showing today, too.

It’s the first time since “The March of the Penguins” in 2005 that the theater has shown a children’s movie.

“We’re trying to build on the ‘Dinner and a Movie’ concept and learn from each experience,”
Wade said. “We’re trying to open it up to a larger, broader audience.”

In the fall, Wade plans to show movies popular with the college set. “Animal House” will be the first movie in September.

Wade said the Tuesday promotion is becoming a welcome addition among local restaurateurs.

The largest number of restaurant receipts come from Pablo’s Pizza, The Blue Moon, The Rockslide and La Bamba, he said. However, theater workers also receive receipts from the area’s higher-end restaurants.

Reese said she used the Tuesday “Dinner and a Movie” deal to take her 12-year-old junior Partner to a showing of “Sabrina.”

The girl had never seen a black-and-white film before and had never heard of the actress Audrey Hepburn.

It was also the first time the girl had set foot inside the Avalon, Reese said.

“I said, ‘Use your imagination, and you’ll forget that it’s in black and white,’ ” Reese advised her young friend.

The two ate peanut M&M’s and popcorn, and though they stayed out longer than usual, the girl approved of the outing, Reese said.

“She said it was totally worth it,” Reese said.


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