Beach Stadium 5 Closing Part of an End of an Era, Movie Theater Gap Left on LBI
Frank Theaters Beach Stadium 5 General Managers Katie Riordan and Patrick McShane will have to find new jobs come summer’s end, as the last movie theater on Long Beach Island will be shut down and demolished to make room for what will be an expanded Acme Market that now occupies the same lot in Beach Haven Park. The closing is part of what Frank Theaters CEO and President Bruce Frank called the end of an era of seasonal movie theaters in seashore towns throughout the state and even the nation.
Riordan and McShane, both 22, live within viewing distance of the theater in Beach Haven Park that both have worked at since their mid-teenage years.
“This is one of the first places I came to look for a job partially because I just thought it’d be really fun,” said Riordan. “I love movies. I just thought it’d be a great place to work, and I kept coming back because of the people I met and the experiences I kept having.”
“It’s the best first job you could have,” said McShane, who was unable to get a job at the Acme or the now-defunct Mr. Movie, formerly in Beach Haven, at age 16.
The managers do more than your average movie theater employee these days, as the Beach Stadium 5 is one of a dying breed of movie theaters still making use of 35mm film reels and projectors rather than the digital technology that has taken over the industry.
The projector room is where boxes of film reels are slashed and taped together using a splicer to form a single, very heavy, complete movie reel. Each film must be spliced at exactly the right frames and not be attached backward or else the soundtrack will not line up.
“We had an accident a couple of summers ago where ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ was rearranged incorrectly, but it was such a confusing movie anyway that no one picked up on it until somebody came in from another theater telling us we had it wrong,” said Riordan.
The movies are collected the day after they are done showing and must be taken apart, boxed up and shipped back out. Theater maintenance includes fixing troubled speakers, projector bulbs or other electrical issues.
“It’s very difficult to run a seasonal movie theater, especially on this island,” said Riordan. “There are constant annual costs and maintenance costs, but you only generate revenue over a few months. What’s interesting about this island is that this place only generates money when people don’t want to be here, like when the weather is bad or when you wouldn’t want to go to the beach.”
“I know people who’ve seen ‘Jaws’ here,” said Riordan. “I think people are definitely going to miss having a theater on LBI. It’s something for kids to do when the weather’s rainy; it’s something for you to do to just get out of the house. It’s somewhere to go when the beach is too hot, or a night out with dinner first, or ice cream. It’s something for kids between 13 and 20 that don’t really know what to do. People are not going to realize how much they miss the theater until it’s gone.”
McShane feels the loss of the theater could have further detrimental implications. “If the younger kids have nothing else to do around here, they’re going to be underage drinking,” he said. “They’re just going to find ways to get alcohol even though it is pretty strict to try and get alcohol on LBI if you’re not 21. It is going to be sad.”
Frank’s father and grandfather originally built the theater in 1965 and sublet it to the Hoyts Theater Group from 1996 to 2003, when the Australian company left the United States. At that point it was a two-theater complex that had fallen into disrepair and had mold issues. The Franks renovated it in the mid-2000s, excavating the entire interior of the property to create a five-house multiplex with stadium seating and brand new surround sound systems and screens.
Frank expects to have the theater cleared out by mid-September, and an Acme approximately double the size of the current market will occupy its land with an expected opening date of Memorial Day 2013.
Riordan feels the Acme does not necessarily need expansion as much as it needs renovation. “I don’t think it’s as small as they say it is. I think it could be more efficiently laid out and be brought more up to date.” She does admit the parking lot is often jam- packed, particularly by renters loading up on foodstuffs on Saturday mornings.
Patrick Moeller, a builder and developer on Long Beach Island, owns the 6.3-acre lot that the Acme and Beach 5 Theater currently stand on. On June 5, the Long Beach Township Land Use Board approved a plan from Moeller Enterprises LLC that will see an expanded Acme, as well as six single-family homes constructed on the south side of the current lot.
Moeller also owned the land of The Colony 4 in Brant Beach, which the housing development constructed in its place now pays tribute to with its name.
Frank Theaters built The Colony as it was originally called before being expanded into a 4-house multiplex – a rarity at the time for a shore town. They also built The Colonial that once stood in Beach Haven. At one point Frank Theaters owned every movie theater on the Jersey Shore, from Woodbridge to Cape May, many of which have closed in recent years.
“What you’re seeing is the fact that you cannot survive in our industry running 15 or 20 weeks a year,” said Frank. “It’s a financial impossibility. In all honesty I don’t believe there will be a seashore that has a theater in a few years. I think it’s just a thing of the past. Cape May has transitioned out, and I don’t think the other seashore (towns) will survive, either.”
Frank was born and raised in Ventnor, and admits the reason for the end of the seaside town movie theater era harkens back to a residential boom and the transition from a traditional week-long vacation to a series of weekend visits to the shore.
“The real estate outstripped the value of the land as movie theaters,” said Frank. “The problem is when you’re on vacation, it’s not the first thing you think you want to do, go sit in a theater. Secondly, the seashore towns – all of them – used to have lots of hotels. Today these are very residential islands. People come down for the long weekend or for the weekend when before they used to come and it was their vacation. They were still able to go and be at the shore and stay for the week; it was just part of the plan to add a movie to one of their night’s activities.
“It’s always sad to see the end of an era,” said Frank. “It’s certainly a change in the model of operating movie theaters from the years of my grandfather and father.”
Despite closings like that of the Beach Stadium 5 Theater in Beach Haven Park, Frank Theatres continues to expand in the form of inland IMAX theaters, like the one it will soon build in Northfield as part of a 10-theater deal recently signed. He also said the market is heading toward the proliferation of theater/family entertainment facilities that combine activities such as bowling, laser tag and other gaming with a restaurant, sports bar and theater like those seen at revolutionsentertainment.com.
“The industry has changed,” said Frank. “We’ve always have been blessed to stay at the forefront of it and be creative. When we brought multiplexing to LBI that was unheard of. The Colony 4 was a 4-plex way before the other seashores had seen anything like it. It was a great theater. That certainly represented my childhood.”
“If I were the cities on the Island, I would think about a way to create something – even if it was a nonprofit –between Loveladies and Harvey Cedars. Come up with a piece of dirt and come up with a way to develop a theater in tandem with each other for the benefit of the seashore.”