Brunswick movie theater again on the precipice of defeat

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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.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

Owner Barry Norman says Eveningstar Cinema in downtown Brunswick could be forced to closed by the end of summer.

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Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.
  • Chew H Bird

    I have sympathy and compassion for a single screen theater in a small town. That said, to equate “support” to: ““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.”

    A business needs to stand on its own merits. Just as local pharmacies closed, drive in theaters are few and far between, small ski areas are disappearing, and print media is giving way to internet based content, perhaps it is time to accept reality.

    It is too bad. It is a nice little theater and the people (this owner and previous owners), have always been friendly and nice.

    I do question the value of hanging on to a diminishing audience when it seems like an opportunity to change the viewership. Ever seen an older bar (for example), hanging on to old clients, not making enough revenue, and gradually fading away? When the writing is on the wall it is time for a change (in my opinion). Maintaining a diminishing audience is like waiting for the timer to go off.

  • The town will really miss the foot traffic this theater brings in every day if it does close down. The beginning of the end of many towns is when the theater shuts down.