Mandatory upgrades too costly for theater
Haywood County’s longtime movie theater, Smoky Mountain Cinema, closed its doors Friday, Aug. 30, citing the industry mandated conversion to digital as one of the main reasons.
Soon, films will only be available to movie theaters in digital form after a recent industry-wide shift from 35mm film and film projectors to digital projectors at great cost to small movie theaters across the country.
Chris Ballance and his wife took over the cinema located in the Waynesville Plaza in March 2009, in part as a hobby as well as a means to make extra income. The couple said they worked hard with their staff to make the cinema a pleasant and affordable experience. Ticket prices were $5 and $7. The owners gave back to the community by donating passes to benefits, fundraisers, schools and churches.
According to a press release from the owners, the digital systems can be very expensive, in excess of $220,000, and that amount did not include the many additional upgrades needed to operate the new equipment. All the current sound equipment and screens would have to change in addition to the new projectors.
Service plans with maintenance companies for the equipment and general maintenance and repairs can be expensive, as well. Initial costs for the transition would also include having to close for business during the remodel and the cinema already operated on a tight budget, owners said.
"We took into consideration the fact that we did not own the building and without a quality building and stadium seating we were already at a competitive disadvantage," according to the press release. "It was beginning to become impossible for the cinema to obtain first-run films causing them to settle for older films or keep current films longer which in addition cut our sales."
There were several financial options available but Smoky Mountain Cinema didn’t serve a large enough patron base or generate enough ticket sales to make this move a sound business decision.
The cinema offered free summer movies, which were popular with families and summer school programs. Many locals stopped by just to purchase popcorn. The Ballances said that it is a bittersweet decision to close and they will miss many factors of owning the theater.
"We really did put forth every effort to keep the theater operating for the community, unfortunately we were just another casualty of our times," the Ballances said in the release.