By Hilary Corrigan
Triplicate staff writer
Red's Showcase Twin Cinemas will close next week, ending a landmark theater's run in the downtown district and some regular movie goers' cheap weekly habit.
The favorite local movie place with its $4 ticket price, $1.50 popcorn, $1 soda, 50 cent coffee and 75 cent cappucinos has failed to make a profit for most of the 20 years that the Thomas family has operated it.
"It's been a long time coming. We held it off as long as we could," said co-manager Bert Thomas of the decision to close and sell the building.
The theater's last profitable year in 1994 came as the Crescent City Cinemas opened near Safeway.
"I remember an editorial at the time in the Daily Triplicate and it sounded like an obituary," Thomas said of the expected tough competition. "I think we lasted a lot longer than most people thought."
On a rainy Friday night, with the "Last King of Scotland" and "Night at the Museum" playing, a steady crowd of children, senior citizens, teachers, teenagers, parents, couples, local workers and groups of friends arrive.
"If we did this all the time, we'd be alright," Thomas said of such crowds.
But the more typical audience at the theater totals only a few people per show, about 50 each week.
"You just can't make money on that," Thomas said.
Popular cartoon and children's movies "Happy Feet," "Charlotte's Web," and the "Chronicles of Narnia," for instance have made the most money for the business. The late-to-arrive blockbusters, though, along with teen movies, foreign films and horror flicks, have failed to draw crowds.
The theater pays movie companies about $150 per film, plus an $80 courier service fee to deliver the large cannisters. Electricity, workers' wages, advertising and other costs also add up.
Red's has aimed to get the more thoughtful, less commercial films, playing "Babel" and "Queen," for instance, weeks before the city's other theater.
Movie companies, though, prefer multi-screened theaters to play their films several times each day at higher ticket prices. Red's charges $4 for adults and carries two movies for a week, playing one show of each six nights a week.
"I'd like to see those kinds of movies without driving to Eureka or Medford," Thomas said.
Eating popcorn in the lobby, city resident Hope Wilder catches up with friends while waiting for the "Last King of Scotland" to start.
"I love this place. It's quaint, it's lovely, it's well-priced and I love it. It's the epitome of small-town," Wilder said.
The G Street theater has hosted films since the 1950s under a series of owners.
Leon "Red" Thomas, who ran drive-in theaters in Brookings, Ore., and Crescent City, opened the downtown cinema in 1987.
Once a one-screen theater, previous owners had "twinned" it, installing two screens, a few years earlier. When a storm knocked over the outdoor drive-in screens, "Red" Thomas replaced only the Crescent City one and continued the downtown business, along with low ticket prices.
City natives Steve and Debbie Berg have visited the theater all their lives.
Debbie Berg watched "Old Yeller" and "Lassie" there, along with all the old Elvis Presley films.
"Held hands for the first time at the movie here," she said.
Steve Berg enjoyed the old Gordon Eastman outdoor hunting and fishing documentaries.
"People would be lined up around the block," he recalled, looking around the lobby. "Something about old theaters, we always search 'em out, wherever we go."
"Red" Thomas died in 2004 and a poem from a memorial at the time hangs in the theater's lobby.
The Thomas family will continue running the seasonal drive-in theater off Elk Valley Road. The 5,500 square-foot downtown building is listed for $399,000.
Several local residents wonder if a community theater group might step in to create a place for shows, concerts and events.
Bert Thomas looks forward to the change in some ways.
"It's been 20 years since I've gotten to be home more than one night a week," he said, noting plans to attend his daughter's upcoming spelling bee.
He would like to see a group renovate the building, replace the two screens with one large one, install the latest sound equipment.
"That would be the way it could succeed," Thomas said. "But it'd take some money."