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

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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.