Cleveland Cinemas revives Austintown Cinema, the last of the independents.
By JOHN PATRICK GATTA
AUSTINTOWN -- In a capitalist society, it's always a matter of survival of the fittest. For Austintown Cinema, the Youngstown area's last independently run multiplex, it couldn't compete with the corporate-owned, 10-screen theater set up literally within view of its backdoor. Because of that, Austintown unspooled its last reel a year ago.
Undaunted by the situation, Cleveland Cinemas plans to reopen the three-screen theater under an agreement with Austintown Plaza's owners.
"The truth is my company has had great success with challenging, underperforming properties," said Jonathan Forman, president and founder of Cleveland Cinemas, when reached by phone. "If it makes sense to us, then we embrace them. We don't just take any offer made to us. We're fully aware of the hurdles in front of us, but we see it as an opportunity."
Industry troubles: He also pointed out that many of the nation's multiplex chains have financial troubles as well and are restructuring for a more stable economic future.
The new Austintown Cinema will show a combination of second-run films, titles that did not appear at nearby Regal Cinemas and independent works that have gained national attention yet have not played in this area. All will be available at discounted prices.
Plans are to paint the interior, put in new carpeting and upgrade the projection equipment, with the possibility of bringing in state-of-the-art digital stereo. "Whatever the budget permits," said Forman.
He hopes to be presenting films by late October.
Cleveland Cinemas is a 25-year-old company that manages four theaters with a total of 28 screens. Its initial endeavor in the exhibition business is the Cedar Lee Theater, which has developed a reputation for successfully showing foreign and independent films. The group went on to take over the management duties at Tower City Cinemas, the only theater in downtown Cleveland and the discount priced Brookgate Movies in Brook Park, Ohio. It also reopened the Colony Theater as the Shaker Square Theater in December 2000.
Film fest: His background includes starting the Cleveland International Film Festival 26 years ago. When the festival settled at Tower City, he stepped down as its executive director in order to avoid any appearances of conflict of interest and devoted himself only to Cleveland Cinema.
Forman described the film exhibition business as a licensed form of gambling. "You roll the dice every week. It's the same with the studios."
He described how "Go Tigers!" a documentary on the Massillon High School football program that's being shown at Shaker Square, was viewed as a possible breakout success for the genre. Because of that perception, the film opened to a larger than normal amount of theaters. Despite good reviews, it did not do very well at the box office.
"But I applaud them for taking the chance," he said.
Obviously, Forman is hoping to roll a seven rather than get the dreaded snake eyes staring back at him. With market surveys completed and a stellar history behind him, he's confident that Austintown Cinema will beat the house and become a thriving business once again.
"The goal is to make the theater successful, which means that the property owner doesn't have a vacant space and that the community has three more films to choose from this week."