> To the Editor,
I am compelled to comment on last week's editorial about Prineville and Sisters getting a movie theater and not Madras. First, because my late husband and I owned and operated all four of the theaters mentioned, in Madras and Prineville, among others throughout eastern and central Oregon. (The "K & D Drive-in" was named after Kenneth and Denzel Piercy, who built all four of them and sold them to us in the early '70's). We shut down the "Pine Theater" in Prineville and sold the Patio Drive-in, which became the Forest Service office. The K & D was open even after Larry and I were married in 1984, but lost $10,000 that summer and Larry called it "an expensive hobby." The "Chief" theater is now the optometrist's office, downtown.
Theater business was lucrative back in the '60s and '70s, and we were able to buy a few more properties (theaters) every year until we amassed a small fortune. Many of the drive-ins became shopping centers, like the Odem-Medo in Redmond, which is now Albertson's and Rite-Aid. The Bend Drive-in is now the home of the new Lowe's. All those tickets and popcorn were instrumental in being able to build the East Cascade Assisted Living complex without any government subsidies or tax breaks from the County. (But, "Easy come, easy go." While we were making $20,000 per month in profit in movie theater days, we are losing that much now, in this business. That is because of the stock market "crash" and huge discounts we have to give to the state's Medicaid clients. No profit in that.)
But, I digress. Theater business changed. In those days minimum wage was $1.25 an hour, and so were tickets. Minimum wage now is $7.45, and so is a movie ticket. The difference between then and now is that, while we were able to rent movies at a flat rate, so many hundred dollars for a week, now the distributors, or "film companies," get 90 percent of the ticket money collected, so the only thing that will "pay the rent" is the snack bar, hence the high prices for popcorn and soda pop. The other 10 percent would go to shipping costs; 35 millimeter film is very heavy!
Therefore, our editor's suggestion that if you stay away from the popcorn and coke, movies are affordable entertainment; is also a way to make that theater go out of business fast! If all you buy is a ticket, that money doesn't belong to the operator, but pays only for the film. If Sisters and Prineville are more affluent than Madras, more people there would be inclined to splurge at the snack bar, and that is what "pays the rent," and the bills and the wages. I wouldn't count on that in Madras. Even if you could make it illegal to smuggle snacks and drinks in, a town of 5,000 people cannot support a single or double-screen theater. While some independent film distributors of art films and foreign films will still rent movies at a flat rate, I doubt that the market for those films exists in Madras. How many people attend the movies and shows we have now in the Library Annex? What if there was a mortgage to pay there? Plus property taxes? Would it still be able to operate?
Then there is the problem or crowd control, which is what shut down the Chief Theater here. The profits were eaten up by vandalism and rowdiness, but I think things are better now. They've managed to "clean up" that problem at the middle school, for instance. Kids have to be quiet in a theater for all to enjoy the show, or nobody else will attend besides the noisy kids.
Things are looking up, though. Soon we'll have a gorgeous city pool and maybe even a big-name hotel/conference center, and with 500 jobs at the prison, the town will grow. A population of 10,000 could support a movie theater. I loved that business, especially when it was making money. Losing $20,000 every month is not fun! Now we are "feeding" our elder care homes while we wait for better times. If someone were to build a theater in Madras, the town has to support it or it won't stay in business for very long.