Theater manager says future grim for cinemas

September 09, 1997


Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - As the reels turned for the last shows on a slow night recently, Berkeley Plaza Theatre Manager Bob Elliott considered what effect another 24 screens in the Martinsburg area might have on his business.

"All I can say is `good luck' because I know what kind of business we do and I don't think they can make it," Elliott said.

He questioned whether investments of $5 million or more in each of two theater projects on Foxcroft Avenue will prove to be wise.


Last Wednesday night the Martinsburg City Planning Commission approved site plans submitted by Van Wyk Enterprises for a 10-screen multiplex. The same night, it approved another site plan from Crown American for a 12- or 14-screen complex at the Martinsburg Mall.

Van Wyk has a lease agreement with Hoyts Cinemas. Crown American is still negotiating with exhibitors.

"We're not planning on going anyplace. We're staying right here," said Elliott, who has been in the theater business for 27 years. He said he has worked on and off at the Berkeley Plaza Theatre, which was built in 1967, for 23 of those years.

"I've never seen them filled up. We've come close," he remarked about the seven theaters with a total of 1,145 seats. That night the theater had nine films showing, including "G.I. Jane," "Hoodlums," "Copland" and "Conspiracy Theory."

"Leave it to Beaver" was a matinee and two sci-fi films were getting alternate showings on one screen. Despite the first-run films, the theater had taken in just $181 in ticket sales that night.

The addition of 10 or more screens in the area could make it harder for any operator to fill seats, according to Elliott.

"I'm retiring at the end of the year. I'll be 80, so it doesn't matter to me one way or the other," said Elwood Lane, one of the owners of the theater, in a telephone interview. He said when that happens, Elliott would take over the business.

Elliott added that a Washington, D.C., area man also owns a piece of the theater.

According to Elliott, the theater draws people from Maryland and West Virginia on weekends, probably because the tickets are just $5 for adults and $3 for children.

"Our concessions are a lot cheaper, too." he added.

Inside, the theater was quiet, with a customer occasionally roaming into the lobby for popcorn or a soda. Outside, young people were mulling about in the parking lot of the mostly empty shopping center. In the corner where the theater sits, there's also a tavern, an IRS office and a laundromat.

"I feel if they made better movies, you could survive," Elliott said.

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