Pumping iron

HEY, SISSY! Get off your flabby ass and stop watching those wimpy foreign movies! From now on it's going to be Hardbodies, not Festival in Cannes! And no more buttered popcorn! It's time to etch those abs!

That's the message being sent to the Broadway Market Cinemas [BMC] from its landlord. The 14-year-old four-screen multiplex is being muscled out by a Gold's Gym franchise, expected to open this November. (Movies will continue through April or May.) Spokespersons for the BMC's Landmark-Seven Gables chain explain they were unable to come to terms during lease renegotiations. The mall's property manager, Madison Marquette, essentially dropped the anchor tenant in favor of a deeper-pocketed franchisee that will draw more foot traffic into the mall—benefiting other retail tenants.

From a business standpoint, the development is consistent with the Broadway strip's evolution toward national retailers and franchise establishments. The Gap, Subway, Wherehouse, Taco Bell, Jack in the Box—call it urban blight, but it pays the rent.

Capitol Hill moviegoers, by contrast, will have fewer places to pay for adventurous cinema. Landmark switched its big Egyptian screen from repertory fare to first-run titles with Am鬩e last November. Its two-screen Harvard Exit opens new foreign, indie, and upscale flicks. With its tiny, shoebox-sized screens, the BMC has traditionally been where Landmark extended the runs of its hits—where movie exhibitors typically make more money—like Mulholland Drive.

Nationwide, the exhibition biz has suffered a bloodbath of red ink, with almost every major chain, including Landmark's old parent, in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which can void existing lease agreements. (Landmark was sold last May to a new investment-consortium owner, with some of its old managers returning to the helm.) Overscreening during the '90s helped cause such financial distress; now the mandate is to cut screens in overserved areas. Hence the demise of downtown's Newmark, City Centre, and UA70/150 theaters.

Was there such a glut on Cap Hill? For a pedestrian-oriented neighborhood with such a large concentration of movie-loving singles (read: gay men), the honest answer is "No." But, paying a substantially higher rent, could Landmark have continued to operate the BMC profitably? Probably not, not with the home video boom and newer, nicer Meridian and Pacific Place cinemas competing downtown.

Brian Miller


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