Topic: Garland, TX: Walnut Theaters (#4817) is a one-man show
From: Addison, TX
Registered: Jan 2005
posted August 23, 2006 01:23 AM
Dallas Morning News article
This show business - a slow business
Theater owner stays afloat playing lone ranger
12:00 AM CDT on Wednesday, August 23, 2006
By KARIN SHAW ANDERSON / The Dallas Morning News
Walnut Theaters is a two-screen cinema and a one-man show.
When customers arrive at Sanjay Chandrahas' Garland movie house, the 45-year-old sells them tickets and offers snacks at the concession stand. Then he bounds up steep stairs, three at a time, to the projection room, where he spins a web of celluloid through a maze of contraptions to start the feature and kicks on the air conditioning in the auditorium.
"I do everything myself," the former electrical engineer said. "If I had to hire somebody, there's no way I could make any money."
Walnut Theaters hides behind a bank in a parking lot off Walnut Street in Garland. It's a '70s-era relic without stadium seating or corporate backing. Folks who find the box-shaped theater – it's about 50 yards east of the marquee announcing its existence – have a choice of watching one of two first-run flicks for $5 a piece. Kids get a $2 discount.
"Sometimes we break even; sometimes we make a little profit," Mr. Chandrahas said. "The customers will decide whether to come here or go somewhere else. We just do our job."
Mr. Chandrahas says he's never been a movie buff.
He doesn't remember ever watching a movie in an American theater before he bought his own in 1997, six months after another family shut the doors on what was then the Walnut Twin.
"I wanted to do some business, so that was an opportunity to try," he said.
The odds are against him. Statistics from the National Association of Theatre Owners show that more and more small theaters are closing across the country as the average number of screens per cinema rises.
In 1995, the national average was fewer than four screens per indoor theater. By 2005, a typical theater had more than six. Cinemark and AMC theaters average more than a dozen screens per theater.
On occasion, Mr. Chandrahas hires part-time workers to help with box-office duties and concession sales during the summer blockbuster season, but that's not usually the case.
For him, running the whole production is a manageable job. Rarely has he sold out the larger 300-seat auditorium. Its 220-seat neighbor gets even less traffic. On a recent evening, he started the 7 p.m. movie for just one family that came to see The Ant Bully. Ten minutes later, another family arrived to watch Zoom. They were the only patrons of the evening.
Get the lights
On most days, just a handful of people wander into the lobby that's lit only when customers arrive.
"I save money where I can," Mr. Chandrahas said.
Empty candy boxes hold his business files. Masking tape helps identify movie trailer reels stacked in the projection room.
No air conditioning runs when the auditoriums are empty, so customers must wait a few stuffy minutes for cool relief.
"What is the point of air conditioning when there are no people?" Mr. Chandrahas reasoned.
The reward in this trade-off, he insists, is the treat he offers his patrons' ears.
"You will experience a mind-blowing sound system," he said, loading a movie soundtrack into the digital audio system that he modified.
Roxanne Mayo is a believer. The Garland woman brought her mother and 3-year-old daughter to the theater recently to watch The Ant Bully.
"The sound is like you're right there in the movie," Ms. Mayo said.
But the real advantage, she said, is the lower-than-average ticket price and simple format.
"It's not so chaotic," she said, watching her daughter toddle over to the pinball machines in the deserted lobby.
"I think it's better for her. I don't have to worry about the other influences going on around her, and they always have kids' movies here."
Mr. Chandrahas chooses offerings based on projected box-office gross.
But every movie is also judged based on its suitability for families.
Mr. Chandrahas initially dabbled in other movie formats. A big draw on Saturdays was the late-night showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But the rowdy crowd it attracted cut his profits.
"There were a lot of maintenance issues," he said.
"They would throw rice and throw disgusting things at the screen. ... It was a nightmare."
Eventually, Mr. Chandrahas said, he decided that the only way to keep his business alive was to compete with the megaplexes by showing first-run movies at lower prices.
But like other mom-and-pop businesses, the little theater is struggling to survive.
"Next year is going to be very good," he said hopefully, ticking off the names of three movies set for release in May.
"It's not rocket science to decide which movies to get," he said. "Then I just leave it on God. Whoever is going to come is going to come."
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From: Fort Worth, TX
Registered: Feb 2003
posted August 28, 2006 12:25 AM
I can attest first hand that it's a one-man show. Last year, when I was staying at my parent’s house during the Rita evacuation, I finally decided to check the theater out, so I went there on a Friday night to see Valiant, which was the only feature showing that week. The only people in the theater were myself, a dad with two young boys, and Mr. Chandrahas (though I didn't know his name at the time). Having grown used to multi and megaplexes where, no matter how small the crowd was, there were always at least a few employees on-hand; it was bizarre to realize that he was the only person on duty that night. That proved troublesome about halfway through the movie when it went out of frame...it took a couple of minutes to track him down and report the problem. And I can attest that the auditorium was fairly warm for quite some time after I arrived.
I have to admit, I was rather underwhelmed by the visit, and since it is rather inconvenient to get to from my parents' house in Plano, I probably won't be going back anytime soon. But maybe I should, or at least recommend the place to my friends who are still living in the area. It's nice to find someone willing to stay in the game despite minimal profits.
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