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Columbia 4 dollar theater closes

The rain-soaked parking lot of the Columbia 4 dollar movie theater in Grand Forks was empty Monday. A sign posted in the front window told passersby of the theater's closing and thanked customers for their patronage over the past 25 years.

Sign outside Columbia 4
(Photo by Ryan Schuster, Herald staff writer)

The rain-soaked parking lot of the Columbia 4 dollar movie theater in Grand Forks was empty Monday. A sign posted in the front window told passersby of the theater's closing and thanked customers for their patronage over the past 25 years.

The Columbia 4 theater closed its doors for good after its final show Thursday night.

No lost jobs

No employees lost their jobs as Columbia 4 workers were allowed to take jobs at fellow Carmike Cinemas theater Carmike 10, according to a Carmike 10 employee who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with the media.

The Columbia 4 theater closed less than a year after the opening of the River Cinema 12 theater in East Grand Forks. Columbia 4 became a dollar theater in February -- two months after River Cinema 12 opened.


"It's not a surprise to me," River Cinema 12 owner Bob Moore said. "A dollar is tough to make it on for ticket prices. Half of that goes to the movie companies. What does that leave you to pay bills with? Everything is about the bottom line. Grand Forks real estate is pretty expensive. You have to have a lot of numbers to make it work -- I'd say triple what they had to make it work."

Carmike Cinemas officials were not available for comment Monday. Earlier this year, Carmike officials said competition from the independent River Cinema led Carmike to slash ticket prices at its two Grand Forks theaters to match River Cinema's prices, then to make the Columbia 4 a dollar theater two weeks later.

Drooping revenue

Attendance and revenue have significantly dropped at the two local Carmike theaters since River Cinema opened.

"We just couldn't compete with the new theater," Carmike district manager Shelly Ballard said in February of the decision to make Columbia 4 a dollar theater. "(Columbia 4) really hasn't competed ever since the 10-screen theater opened."

The Columbia 4 opened in 1983. The Midco 10 (now the Carmike 10) opened nearby in 1994. Carmike took over the two theaters in 1995. At the time there were several local first-run and bargain movie theaters in town, but one by one, they all closed down.

Carmike held a monopoly on Grand Forks movie theaters before River Cinema opened last December. Local patrons had long grumbled about Carmike's high ticket prices and lack of improvements made to the local theaters, among other things. But before River Cinema opened, Carmike's prices remained high.

"Competition is competition," said Moore of River Cinema. "It makes it tough on everybody if you have to split the pie more times. They had a monopoly, and now they don't."


Moore, who keeps a close eye on his competition, said he has also noticed a big drop off in Carmike 10's business.

"It's not pleasant for them," Moore said. "They are making a third of what they were making."

Already sold

Current and former Carmike employees said the Columbia 4 theater building has already been sold to an unknown entity. A former employee said the Columbia 4 theater closed after Carmike's lease on the space ran out.

Online county property records show the about 13,000-square-foot Columbia 4 theater and parking lot is owned by Cupertino, Calif.-based B&B Realty.

City planner Brad Gengler said no plans have been submitted to the city for the land where the theater building is located on 32nd Avenue South, just south of Columbia Mall.

Moore said he is aware of what is happening with his competitors but that he is primarily focused on his own business.

Moore said he plans to go ahead with plans to add three additional movie screens across the aisle in the Riverwalk Centre mall in East Grand Forks by as early as May. He said he plans to talk to the city of East Grand Forks about adding the new screens, which would expand the theater from 12 to 15 screens.


He also said he plans to convert two of his existing screens to digital screens.

Moore said his theater has had nearly 300,000 visitors since it opened and that he expects the number to swell to 350,000 by the end of the year, about double initial conservative projections.

"It's been terrific," Moore said. "I'm very pleased. We were hopeful of doing this well, but we just didn't want to be too confident when we came in.

"I thought 12 screens would be plenty. But we're letting go of movies way too soon. We'd like to hold onto some longer."

Schuster covers business. Reach him at (701) 780-1107; (800) 477-6572, ext. 107; or send e-mail to rschuster@gfherald.com . Read his business blog at www.areavoices.com/bizbuzz .

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