BRUNSWICK — Eveningstar Cinema, the town’s downtown single-screen theater, might close at the end of the summer.
Barry Norman, who bought the theater seven years ago, said several factors are contributing to the slow demise of the theater, chief among them his inability to expand to multiple screens.
“My demographic is shrinking; it has been for years,” he said in a recent interview.
The Eveningstar’s core audience is a diminishing population of older women, Norman said, noting there’s nothing like a Maggie Smith or Judi Dench film to generate ticket sales.
But with only a single screen, “I don’t have the ability to market to other markets,” he said, meaning he has no way to feature films that appeal to other demographics without jeopardizing his base constituency.
That’s been the case for years, Norman said.
In recent weeks, however, he has also started to have trouble securing the safe-bet films that buoy ticket sales – the independent films and romantic comedies that shouldn’t be hard to acquire from distributors during a summer season awash in superhero movies.
“I’ve seen this trend for years, (but) the last few weeks have made things more alarming,” he said, noting he has been denied the right to screen three films in the last month that shouldn’t have been difficult to acquire.
Norman, who leases the theater space from Tontine Mall landlord Dan Caitlin, said he has tried and failed to find a larger location for a multiplex theater since he bought the Eveningstar business.
He said 16 Maine banks have rejected his loan application, citing a lack of precedence for financing theaters.
The theater’s lease, meanwhile, expired two years ago and he’s been a tenant at will, which give the landlord the right to evict him with 30 days’ notice.
“Every one of these things separately puts me in trouble,” he said. “Together, they put me on the ledge.”
Movie theaters – especially of the small, throw-back Eveningstar variety – are falling behind in a digital marketplace, Norman said, where changing consumer habits have made single-screen theaters more of a novelty than a go-to for film entertainment.
He also lamented a perceived lack of local or state assistance in trying to keep the theater afloat.
“I am convinced that had I received even a modicum of support through local and/or state agencies and the financial community, it wouldn’t have come to this,” he said, describing his attempts to contact the town for assistance like grant-funded aid.
People keep telling him how much they love his theater, he said, but that won’t keep it open.
“You get a lot of lip service, but no positive action,” Norman said.
In lieu of another screen, he hopes to generate additional revenue through expanded concessions and alcohol sales.
Norman has applied to the state for a license to serve beer and wine, which the Town Council approved June 5.
However, he said he’s met some challenges from regulators for a grander expansion idea that would turn the theater into a lounge, and serve hot concessions like pizza.
If he’s successful in this latest attempt keep the Eveningstar viable, it wouldn’t be the first time.
In 2013, he launched a successful online campaign to raise $50,000 to purchase a digital projector, which saved the theater from closing.
If he’s not successful this time, Norman said he will decide whether to close the theater in the coming weeks.
Owner Barry Norman says Eveningstar Cinema in downtown Brunswick could be forced to closed by the end of summer.