Even before the pandemic, Ari Benmosche realized that running his cinema in the traditional sense was not sustainable.
The owner of the Lafayette Theater, a small venue in Suffern, New York, showed new releases of “Star Wars” and movie marathons of holiday classics, always ending with “It’s a Wonderful Life.” But he could not get the theater back to profitability.
“The show industry is like a totem.” We, as a single screen cinema, are at the absolute bottom of this totem field, “said Benmosche. “I’m one person with one screen and 1,000 seats.”
This is not the first time that theater has failed for the first time. It was supposed to be sold and gutted twenty years ago, but Benmosche’s family bought the property and saved it. Now he has to imagine what the theater might be like again.
Benmosche is not alone. In many cinemas, Covid-19, which keeps viewers at home and new releases from the screen, feels like the last curtain after years of dwindling audiences. This also applies to national multiplex chains.
Cinemas across the country have paid only 38 percent of their October rents since Nov. 5, according to the report Datex Property Solutions.
There is also collateral damage. Cinemas provide nightlife for shopping malls and serve as social spaces. Their turmoil poses a threat to the development they are helping to anchor.
“There are a lot of companies that really rely on them to be successful and work.”
to full capacity, ”said Kennedy Smith, director of Community Land Use + Economics Group, a consulting firm focused on revitalizing local businesses.
In 1995, there were 7,744 cinemas across the United States. But by 2018, according to Statistics, there were only 5,869. The decline can be attributed to the rise in domestic film watching, which gained momentum as VHS tapes gave way to DVD and then to streaming services. The rising cost of theaters was also a factor.
While some cinema-goers remained eager to immerse themselves in the cozy spaces of their local cinema with a bath of butter popcorn and an excessive drink – theater gains come largely from concessions – the pandemic dealt a crushing blow.
The cinemas were closed for months. And although most have reopened within capacity constraints, studios have relaxed as Covid multiplies and fears of gathering inside persist.
More theater owners had to think about other ways to use real estate.
“Everything has a certain length of life, whether physical or experiential.” During the 25-, 50-, 75-year lifespan of a building, it is often necessary to relocate it to best serve the public, ”he said. Grant Gagnier, Head of Business Unit in New York Gilbane Building Company, a construction management firm.
Benmosche plans to upgrade its theater with portable seats and a retractable mechanical screen, which will allow the venue to have live entertainment as well.
His theater remains closed, although New York State allows theaters with a 25 percent capacity or up to 50 people to be reopened. The pandemic seemed like the perfect time to renovate.
In recent years, other theaters have also increased their offerings, for example by adding three – dimensional screens or dining options.
A pandemic could cause another transformation of movie houses, but even that can be difficult.
“In New York, we always set a default residential – in most cases the highest and best use,” said Ariel Aufgang, CEO of Aufgang Architects. “More families require windows, lots of natural light and air.” And these theaters are basically big commercial structures. “
It is not impossible.
The Victoria Theater in Harlem once housed 2,000 seats as a theater of performing arts, before being used as a multi-screen cinema in the 1970s. Then, in 1989, it got dark.
Redesigned by Aufgang, it is now home to 199 accommodation units and 211 hotel rooms. To commemorate its original use, the façade, signage, awnings and lobby were incorporated into the design.
“You really need to think about the innate requirements and needs of the local community where the asset is located and try to figure out how to synthesize a set of uses that produce commercial viability,” said Craig Livingston, CEO of Exact Capital Partners, who rebuilt property.
And while it may close, theaters are hardly dead. In Vacaville, California, the Deville Theater has been on the market for just two months and is already interested in four entertainment venues.
“The path of least resistance is to find a building that is already built that way.” It is expensive to build from scratch or retrofit, ”said Mark McGuire, real estate broker and owner of McGuire Capital Group Realty. “I think we’re generally surprised by the optimism about what’s going on.”