Another movie theater closes
By AARON SHAROCKMAN
CLEARWATER -- At the movies, the little guy's supposed to win, right?
Apparently that script hasn't landed in Clearwater.
After a weekend in which Hollywood made a record $200-million, Main Street Cinemas, 27928 U.S. 19 N, unplugged its five reels Monday. On Thursday, the owner of its plaza handed over the deed to a local car dealer, making Main Street the third city movie house to close its doors in less than two years -- even as megaplexes in Palm Harbor and Oldsmar remain jammed each weekend.
The second-run theater's sale to autodealer Paul Lokey leaves two movie houses in Clearwater. But one, Movies at Clearwater on U.S. 19, has been sold and is expected to close. Only Clearwater Cinema Cafe, which shows second-run movies, remains with no plans to shutter.
Just last October, Main Street Cinema owner Dave Castelli promised a fight with the 20-screen first-run theaters padded with surround-sound and stadium seating.
But seven months later, Castelli closed his doors. He said the decision had more to do with an attractive offer from Lokey than box office receipts.
"We're not walking out on the people of Clearwater," said Castelli, who has been running the theater since November 2000, after theater operator Carmike closed. "Sometimes it's time to move on to the next venture."
Castelli said he hopes to revitalize a second-run theater elsewhere in Clearwater, but has no timetable or specific location in mind.
Lokey plans on moving his Volkswagen dealership on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard to a larger facility on the U.S. 19 site. Lokey, whose family on Saturday celebrates 50 years of selling cars in Clearwater, will move the VW showroom to the old Main Street site adjacent to his Nissan and Kia dealership.
"It gives us a 12-acre automall where customers can find whatever they need in one location," Lokey said. "I like the fact I can oversee all our operations from one complex. I'm a hands-on kind of guy and this move will make that happen easier."
The 18,000-square-foot theater will be transformed into a body shop or used-car showroom as part of a $6.6-million project to be finished this year, Lokey said.
The other tenants in the plaza surrounding the theater, including an ice cream parlor, hair salon, audio store, and martial arts business, will not be forced to move by the sale, Lokey said.
The wave of city theater closures started in 2000 when first run theaters at the Countryside and Clearwater malls shut down. Last fall, the eight-screen United Artist-owned Movies at Clearwater was put up for sale. The property has been purchased, said to Chuck Bohac, the real estate agent handling the deal, but he declined to provide further details. Its future is undetermined.
With Main Street's sale, Clearwater Cinema Cafe, 24095 U.S. 19 N, stands as the last independent theater in Clearwater.
Rick Doucette, manager of the second-run cinema, maintains its business has been steady and that it holds no plans of closing. The Clearwater closings have puzzled Doucette, who maintains Cinema Cafe has been pulling average returns after an initial post-Sept. 11 dip.
"I don't know why theaters can't survive in Clearwater," said Doucette, who calls his small movie house equipped with a full-service bar and waitered service unique. "We've been filling up this place forever."
Doucette says a steady local clientele avoids the higher ticket and food prices associated with megaplexes, waiting for the more friendly environment of the $2.50-a-ticket theater.
The admission price is Doucette's weapon -- he thinks it's megaplex kryptonite.
"One thing that I know that will keep us here is the ticket price," Doucette said. "Everybody wants a cheaper thing."
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