Beach Theatre owner looks to go nonprofit
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04/29/11 Kate Bradshaw
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The economy is taking its toll on small unique businesses. The Beach Theatre on St. Pete Beach is also in danger of being sold. Owner Mike France said he bought the 40-year-old movie house when it was up for sale in 2007 out of fear that someone would buy it and turn it into something other than what it was. France says a number of factors are creating a perfect storm for independent theatres across the country, but he might be able to keep the Beach Theatre open without selling it by turning it into a nonprofit.

France said he plans to keep everyone on staff and might bring in volunteers once it gains nonprofit status. He said navigating the IRS is a new process for him, so there’s no absolute timeline yet.

For a long time, I've been looking at the possibility of going non-profit status. I bought the place four years ago, and I've been running it as a for-profit theater, but the revenue has been going down. I've noticed from doing Internet searches that there's really only two kinds of independent cinemas. There are the ones that are run as non-profits, or there are the ones that are closed. If you go on Google, that's exactly what you find. I don't want this place to go under. I grew up with this theater. It's been an operation in this community for 71 years, so I want to try to find every way possible to keep it going.

Why do you think that is? I mean, aside from, everybody sort of says. "OK, it's the economy," but is there more to it than that?

There's a lot going on, yeah. There is the economy. The whole "BP oil is maybe gonna hit here" thing didn't do any business in this area any good. But I think one of the bigger issues that's affecting movie theaters is just the way movies are distributed now. Everything's changed completely. When the movie studios release a film to theaters, the window between the time that it's first released and the time it goes to DVD has been shrinking ever since home video was invented. And now of course, there's services like Netflix, where you can get access to thousands of movies, more than you could ever watch if you stayed home all day even, for $6 or $7 a month.

In a bad economy, you would think that people would be looking for less-expensive things to do. Have you noticed that at all?

I would say that the bigger issue for us—I think overall the movie business is booming. The problem is, I'm running this as an indie place. We run a lot of lesser-known art-house-type films, so we have an additional challenge. If I run a Pirates Of The Caribbean movie, I don't have to worry about promoting it. Disney is gonna have TV spots on every half-hour on every channel. But we just ran a movie called Super, starring Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page. We had that as an exclusive for the area. It was only on 30 screens in the country, and we couldn't get people to come out for it because nobody knew what it was. So that's one of the challenges we have, is getting the word out about our independent films.

France said he plans to keep everyone on staff and might bring in volunteers once it gains nonprofit status. He said navigating the IRS is a new process for him, so there’s no absolute timeline yet.

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