Curtains for Carmike: Last non-Regal theater in the area to close

Carmike Cinemas, the only remaining area theater not owned by Regal, is set to close this week. Photo: Eli Williams Carmike Cinemas, the only remaining area theater not owned by Regal, is set to close this week. Photo: Eli Williams

Another one bites the dust.

By the time the week is out, the number of moviehouses shuttered since the arrival of the Regal 14 at Stonefield will be up to three, as Carmike Cinemas closes its six-screen theater in the Gardens Shopping Center on Route 29. As a result of the closure, Charlottesville will be an all-Regal town.

Robert Rinderman of investor relations firm JCIR, which claims Carmike as a client, said the Charlottesville theater would close November 21. It’s one of about eight the company will have shut down so far this year, he said.

Despite the closures, the company is “in growth mode,” Rinderman said—quarterly earnings are up, and Carmike recently bought nine theaters from rival Muvico for $32 million—“and we’re sorry we’re leaving your market. Management there has done a good job of turning the business around.”

Management is Raymond Kilburn, who took the reins at the theater just over a year ago, when the pending arrival of the Regal IMAX multiplex loomed large on the local movie scene. When the Stonefield theater opened last November, Regal shut down its smaller location in Seminole Square and started screening only indie and arthouse flicks at its Downtown Mall site, putting it in competition with the faltering Vinegar Hill Theatre just down the street.

Faced with an outsized competitor, Kilburn oversaw Carmike’s transformation into a discount theater, ceding the first-run blockbuster market to the big newcomer and settling into selling $1.50 tickets to movies that had already made the rounds. At the time, he told The Hook he was betting on large families, college kids, and seniors unwilling to shell out between $10.50 and $17 for a Regal ticket to help him turn a profit.

And it seemed to be working. Over the summer, Kilburn said he’d given the 21-
year-old theater a makeover—new bathrooms, new seats—and business was brisk.

So why did Carmike pull the plug? Kilburn declined to comment for this story. Carmike’s corporate reps didn’t return calls, and neither did the Richmond lawyer listed as the property’s registered agent. But Rinderman said the theater’s lease was up, and closures often happen then. Apparently, somebody just wasn’t willing to make a deal.

Many predicted Regal would manage to kill the competition once its Stonefield location opened. One person who foretold Carmike’s doom last year was then-Vinegar Hill Theatre owner Adam Greenbaum, who told reporters the multiplex would “shut out” the smaller theater.

Kilburn’s consolation prize for the sting of that prophecy coming true: Carmike outlasted Vinegar Hill, which closed this summer after 37 years, by more than three months.

  • Todd Edgerton

    pretty sad state of affairs, and they wonder why people dont go out to movies anymore…

  • Tim O’Kane

    Hard to feel sorry about Carmike closing. It has always been the very worst theater in our area. Poorly managed and maintained. Sticky floors and littered with trash, seats broken, I can’t count the times the sound has been atrocious, the picture out of focus or even split-screened – heads at bottom, feet at top. And trying to find someone to fix the situation – well – good luck. I say happily – Good riddance!

    • John Sanderson

      If you want a really bad theater, go to Okeechobee, FL. That theater is what you described. Carmike was a little rough but I never saw a split screen and the sound wasn’t that bad. The new Regal theater is poorly designed. The lower seats are too close to the screen. I have seen many people have to crane their necks and look side to side to see the entire movie. Then walk out complaining of neck pain and headaches. The parking absolutely sucks at the new Regal theater.

  • ChangeOver Charly

    It’s very sad to see the only theatre with a friendly staff and affordable prices. Pretty sickening, over-privileged, cavalier attitude expressed by Tim here over these people losing their jobs all at once. Also it’s been digital for over a year now so “HEADS AT BOTTOM FEET AT TOP” hasn’t even applied to this theatre in awhile. Nice try, Regal manager.

    With this and Vinegar Hill gone, I’m going to miss seeing movies in Charlottesville. It’s sad we’ve lost an entire medium to corporate backstabbing.

  • Katrina Cook

    I remember working there in the 90’s as an Assistant Manager……We had fun there. Sorry to see it go….precisely why I don’t go to the movies much now.

  • Teresa

    Not sure where Tim O’kane is really talking about, but I’ve never experienced any problems at Carmike! I will definitely miss them 🙁 Stonefield will still not get my business.. I’ll see all my movies at Cinemark 10 in Lynchburg!

    • TT

      yeah, I’m gonna drive 45 minutes to Lynchburg to go to a freaking movie. that’s moronic.

    • Laura

      Before Carmike started with the $1.50 movies, I would drive to Lynchburg. It looks like I will be doing that again. Driving down there makes a lot of sense when you have 4 kids. For the price of 1 overpriced movie at Stonehouse (without the outrageously priced snacks), I can drive to Lynchburg, see 2 movies with my kids and buy lunch. Sounds like a much better deal to me.

  • RhiaO

    I am sad to see this location close, it was my favorite theater in town for a long time. I also had no idea that Vinegar Hill closed this summer that is just heart-breaking, I hate that Charlottesville is transforming into another suburb and is losing its indie feeling.

  • Bobby

    Personally, I agree with Tim. I worked there back in the 90’s before they closed the Terrace Triple (where Gold’s is now) and it was great then, fresh and new and we had a blast working there. However, in the years since it has not been well maintained. The numerous broken seats, the roped off areas because parts of the ceiling tiles were falling down, the sound issues or the rips in the screens all soured the enjoyment of going to the movies. I was let down when they built the downtown theater because it was more of the same style and I desperately wanted to enjoy a comfortable atmosphere with stadium seating which I can now enjoy at Stonefield. I’m sorry to see Vinegar Hill go because they offered a different experience but we must keep marching forward. RIP Cville Carmike.

    • dan1101

      Carmike was getting worn out a few years ago, but they fixed it up. I couldn’t see anything wrong with it in the last year or so.

  • Mark

    Come on people, it was $1.50! Hard to imagine they could even afford to stay open, and you’re complaining about sticky floors and maintenance? That was the only remotely affordable place to see a movie on the big screen… gonna miss the chance to take a chance on a few movies there.

  • Lisa

    Sorry to hear about this. I’ve been to Stonefield twice since it opened and to the Carmike about 15 times since it became known as the “dollar theater” (and many, many times before that change). I always found the staff to be super friendly and appreciated how they always give me extra butter on my popcorn when I asked – which was every single time I went there. Guess we’ll stay home and watch HBO/Netflix/Hulu/Acorn etc.

    I don’t know you Raymond Kilburn – but thanks for trying and for your hard work. Good luck to you in the future!

  • Virginia

    I’m going to cry. <3 Carmike

  • Beryl Solla

    You can still see free movies at PVCC every fourth friday in the Dickinson Theatre. This Friday we are showing FRUITVALE STATION. Doors open at 7 and the film starts at 7:30. Free and open to the public. Stadium seating.

    • Teresa

      Thanks for sharing! I didn’t know about this!!

  • Gerry P.

    Bummer! Since the $1.50 pricing started we’d been to more movies than in the 3-4 years before. Most theaters are too loud and way too expensive, Carmike was getting it right with excellent picture and sound quality. (Digital “film” eliminated the scratched up old prints we used to get at dollar movies.) You know a $3 ticket would have been fine too, maybe somebody can pick up the ball at a little higher price point? We’re sorry about your job losses, sorry to see another empty space in the Albemarle Square area. Bummer….., but if somebody loves the movie theater biz, maybe give it another shot. Really, $3 bucks works too, maybe a “healthy-stuff” snack bar might help too. I hope somebody can pull it out, all Regal just aint all good for Cville movies. Hello Netflix, when really we do want to get out to a show, just not for $30 bucks. Thanks for your efforts.

  • Guest

    In the words of the immortal Billy Smith… “The Dump Theataaaaaaaaaaaaar”

  • Joe, Theatre Three Is Dirty

    The real problem with the theatre was the lack of corporate interest in it’s success. Once the stadium seating boom happened, you could begin to count the days of the “traditional” theatre lifespan and demise. Corporate would not invest any money into the building, because there was no point. At this Carmike, the move to digital was brought about by cost of film/transport and potential for future savings, not the viewers enjoyment with better picture quality. It was never about us. It was about the bottom dollar. When you have a company that won’t let you order extra lids for cups, or even change a light bulb, there is more of a problem than a sticky floor or a team member that isn’t wearing their bow tie.

    In a market that has to share films, it is even harder to compete. The studios want their films at the new theatre. Carmike didn’t have a chance to compete — and they didn’t want to — they just wanted to get to the end of the lease.

    For me, Carmike had been better recently only because the lower price allowed me to lower my expectations. Suddenly the aloof team members and popcorn that was popped two days ago in the back room didn’t matter. It was a digital picture on a screen much larger than I can get at home. It served it’s exact purpose.

    It’s sad to see the loss of jobs, but I don’t feel bad for a company that didn’t care about their own success. I say good riddance and don’t let the curtain hit you on the head when it falls…

  • dan1101

    The last movie I saw there was “We’re the Millers” 2 Saturdays ago, and it was an almost full house. I wonder if somehow Carmike got outbid on the lease renewal by Regal.

  • Hank

    Turn it into an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema or Cinebarre.

  • Mike

    good, that place sucked. Once I went and the staff turned off the movie 5 minutes before it ended since I was the only one watching it. Another time they sold us tickets and then announced that the theater was without heat (in January). Glad cville got a real theater, even if its a corporate monster, its better than going to broken seats in a cold theater.

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