Local discount movie theaters close; 2nd-run theaters faced years of challenges

The closed Danbarry Theater in Huber Heights. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF
The closed Danbarry Theater in Huber Heights. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

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Streaming, coronavirus pandemic have had an impact on operations nationwide.

The buildings that once housed a pair of cheap movie theaters in Dayton have sold, reflecting the challenges faced by second-run cinema.

It’s not clear when Danbarry Dollar Saver theaters in Miami Twp. and Huber Heights last showed a film or what caused the closings. The Danbarry website still says the theaters are temporarily closed and message was left with a Danbarry email address asking for more information.

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Kenwood Dealer Group Inc. appears to have bought the Miami Twp. theater building in April and in December Florida real estate firm Larkspur bought the Huber theater and is tearing it down to develop self-storage.

Danbarry charged $3 for regular tickets and $1.75 for a regular ticket on bargain Tuesdays.

Theaters like the Danbarry built a business model by showing movies for a discount after they had a first run opening at higher end cinemas.

Similar discount theaters around the U.S. have closed in recent years as people started seeing movies on the cheap when they come out on budget friendly options like Netflix instead of waiting for them to come to a budget theater. Also, the time from theater to release has shortened over the years from the once six-month delay, according to Scott Mendelson, film critic and box office pundit for Forbes.

“Second-run theaters have been frankly been on the bubble for 20 years, and it’s kind of surprising if there’s more than one or two available to close in any different part of town,” said Mendelson, who said he would argue that Jurassic Park or maybe Titanic were the last movies to have a strong second run.

The last Danbarry location in the Cincinnati metro closed in 2018.

There are local theaters models that are still making it work.

One-screen Englewood Cinema lists recent runs for $5 and also has been letting people privately rent out the theater. The Neon in downtown Dayton has a mix of streaming and in-person movies still pulling in indie movie fans to the nonprofit theater, though Jonathan McNeal, manager at The Neon, said it’s been a challenge.

McNeal said besides grants and customer generosity helping the theater survive, one of the other things that kept them afloat was only having two screens to fill. The giant theaters have had a harder time with both fewer big films and customers coming out.

“If there’s only 100 people interested in Wonder Woman, you can’t put Wonder Woman on 15 year screens like during blockbuster season,” McNeal said.

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Mendelson said movie theaters in general have been challenged as the traditional audience that goes out to the movie drifts to streaming to an extent, and as there’s an upswing in the value of TV-related content.

“Their (theaters) biggest trump card is offering the biggest movie possible on an immersive giant screen environment you can’t replicate at home,” he said.

Like other trends, the pandemic poured fuel onto this fire when theaters were either closed or capacities were slashed by infection control rules, and many theatergoers also opted to stay home while awaiting vaccines. New blockbuster releases got delayed and film production slowed.

“It annoys me when I see people talking about how ‘Oh, theaters need to adapt and evolve.’ It’s a pandemic,” Mendelson said.

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