Volume 104, Number 27 - July 5, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
Entertainment Center stops first-run movies
Local movie buffs who lift their eyes to the Entertainment Center marquee every Friday, holding their breath in anticipation of the new titles blazing in the neon lights, won’t have that pleasure this week, or for many to come.
As of Friday, at the height of the hottest season for film studios to churn out longawaited blockbusters like Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and The Bourne Ultimatum, the two-screen theater at the Pinedale Entertainment Center will stop showing first-run movies. Whether the theater will light up its screens again soon isn’t certain, leaving the nearest movie theaters in Jackson, 77 miles away, Rock Springs, 100 miles away.
Entertainment Center owner Bill Kellen said the theater never made money since he and his brother Tom built it as part of a larger recreational complex in 2001.
“There’s only so long one can pour money into something that’s failing,” Kellen said. The brothers forked out $1,500 to cover the advances on each first-run movie, he said, as well as $130 to ship the movies to Pinedale and then back to film studios.
Showing two or three movies at a time for film studios’ minimum time requirement of two weeks, the Kellens had to pay studios 70 percent of ticket sales, and they never came close to breaking even. “I’d have to sell 62 tickets just to pay for the shipping cost,” Bill said, and unpopular movies didn’t even cover that basic expense. The theater also struggled to hold onto employees, as the oil and gas companies absorbed most of the valuable labor, Bill said, and the Kellens have to pay higher wages in Pinedale than they do for the other Entertainment Centers they own in Texas and South Carolina.
Although losses varied, Bill estimated that he and Tom lost $35,000 a year on the theater. There is hope that the movie doors will open again, but it will take some careful maneuvering. “We’ve received a lot of phone calls from people who are upset over it closing and they want to keep it going any way they can,” Bill said of people trying to conceive strategies for the theater. “We just have to tweak the financial side of this.”
The leading proposal involves changing the theater to second-run status, and running movies that have already circulated for a few months in first-run theaters. Advances for second-run movies run from nothing to $250, Bill said, which the Kellens could easily afford.
“I’ll be contacting my film buyer to see what we can do,” Bill said. Running secondrun movies, Bill and Tom could also afford to show up to four movies at a time. They would still try to bring in major blockbuster films like Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix as first-run movies, though, so fans wouldn’t have to wait a few months.
Many people have volunteered to work the meager one hour a week necessary to collect tickets and sell concessions, and Bill will reward them with free tickets, popcorn and drinks if the theater reopens. Suckey Hohl, who has worked at the Sublette County Library for 10 years, said she observed that children who pass time at the library talking or surfing the web frequented the movie theater.
“It was nice for the kids to have something to do,” Hohl said, adding that her 16-year-old son went to see movies much more often than she did. Without the theater, she said, he has nowhere to go but Rock Rabbit to chill over coffee.
Shawn Cain, 19, has lived in Pinedale all his life and said he depended on the theater for entertainment. “You can go fishing and hiking and camping during the day, but at night, the movie theater is all there was,” Cain said. Attending movies might already have proven frustrating to tourists and new citizens who hankered for a movie in Pinedale in recent years, however.
Despite the encouragements of the towering Entertainment Center sign and the street name Entertainment Lane, the theater’s location often proved evasive to people unfamiliar with its history.
Walking down Entertainment Lane, newcomers passed a Sinclair gas station/Subway hybrid, a white Wolf Pinedale Dodge dealership and a huddled group of small warehouses. Tourists might have spun in the dusty road and wondered how they could possibly miss a movie theater, and they wouldn’t discover until they chatted up a local that the theater hid at the right end of the car dealership building, which previously housed the Entertainment Center that Bill and Tom built in 2001 with the money they gained from selling their gaming business. The brothers didn’t anticipate earning a great amount of money from the facility with an eight-lane bowling alley, arcade, twoscreen theater and 5,000 square-foot meeting room, but they wanted to provide a facility where Pinedale youth, including Bill’s now fully grown three children, could go for fun without having to drive through hazardous weather conditions to Rock Springs or Jackson.
When they lost $80,000 a year maintaining the meeting room that no one was willing to pay $300 a day for, they leased it to the Dodge dealership in September, 2005. Because the dealership needed more space than the meeting room alone offered, Bill and Tom agreed to sacrifice the arcade and bowling alley, as well.
So, for two years, movie-goers squeezed in between behemoth pickups and trudged to the building’s back entrance, where an 8 X 11 inch paper was taped at eye-level with the weekend’s show times.
But the Kellens might improve these conditions, too. They put the facility up for sale about five months ago, and if it sells, they will take the sale money and build a better facility that again includes a bowling alley and arcade.
Bill said he hopes that for now, the theater will only be closed for a few weeks. “We won’t make money, but we’ll at least break even,” Bill said.
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