Gold Town Nickelodeon theater may shut down

Last seven of eight showings have lost money for the business

Posted: Friday, November 16, 2007

The Gold Town Nickelodeon movie theater is facing the possibility of closure once again.

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Attendance has dropped off to "nothing" over the last two months, and theater owner Lisle Hebert took the step of writing a "Mayday letter" to patrons this week as part of the art house's Monday e-mail newsletter.

"It's not the best time to be in business," Hebert said. "It's just been consistently bad for the last couple of months, and it wasn't really great this summer."

Film distributors usually charge theaters a minimum guarantee when they ship out movies. That guarantee is often around $250.

Of the last eight films at the Nickelodeon, only "For The Bible Tells Me So" has attracted enough people at the door to prevent Hebert from dipping into the already-low reserve to meet the guarantee.

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Most disappointing was the minuscule turnout for the acclaimed 2007 Don Cheadle film "Talk To Me," he said.

Considering that the price of a film is $9 for general admission and $7 for seniors, that means that most of the films in the last two months have brought in less than 30 people for an entire weekend run.

"I'm not going to continue running it if I have to go into personal debt," Hebert said. "I've got a little bit of time left unless things turn around, and they have to turn around quickly. Otherwise it's adios muchacho."

Hebert has run the Gold Town Nickelodeon since 1999 out of the Emporium Mall, in between South Franklin Street and City Hall. The art-house theater employs three people part-time for about six hours a week. Hebert has had to bail the theater out with his own cash many times, including particularly grim spells in March 2003 and the summer of 2004.

The Nickelodeon has had its glory days, too. Michael Moore documentaries are usually a big hit. The 2005 documentary "March of the Penguins" attracted huge crowds for almost a month and a half and provided the theater with an unexpected, seven-month financial cushion.

But it's been a while since the theater has had a similar moneymaker, Hebert said. The Edith Piaf documentary "La Vie En Rose" and the Michael Moore documentary "Sicko" created buzzes in town, then drew average crowds. Hebert can't remember seeing a packed house since the summer of 2006.

"It makes me wonder: Where are the fish and what do they want and what kind of bait do I need," he said. "The young men like shoot-it-up movies. And there's also a children's audience in town. But those are films we can't get, or one that we wouldn't want to get because it's not our audience.

"We're down in the food chain," he said. "Your choices are limited to foreign films, documentaries and maybe some other films that slip through the cracks."

The Nickelodeon has faced increasing competition over the last few years. Gross-Alaska Theatres has been bringing in more and more independent films, such as Juneau's first run of "Sicko."

Theaters around the world also have had to compete with the increasing ease of online downloading and mail-order services such as Netflix. That's a big change from four or five years ago, when fewer people were watching movies on their laptops and the Nickelodeon was the lone place you could expect to find many films.

"The thing about the theater is that we show movies on 35 millimeter," Hebert said. "You can see anything you want on DVD, but there is a difference. At least, there is to me."

"People like to have access to all kinds of things, but the number of people we have in Juneau can't really afford time-wise or money-wise to go to everything the community has," he said. "It's survival of the fittest."

• Korry Keeker can bereached at 523-2268 or korry.keeker@juneauempire.com.



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