The Outer Richmond's Balboa Theater has survived the Great Depression, multiple earthquakes and gentrification, but last month, it reduced some of its programming, citing declining attendance.
Although money remains tight, owner Adam Bergeron is now optimistic about his plans for keeping the venerable cinema in operation, he told Hoodline.
"The Balboa is a meeting place for this community," he said, describing it as "a church of the cinema, where our costumers come to have a shared experience that they can't get anywhere else."
Ever since it screened its first picture in 1926, "the Balboa magic is such a huge part of this community," he said. "It's the way you used to go to the movies. You can bring your 90-year-old mom or your three-year-old, and it's not overwhelming."
This week, a small but steady stream of patrons are buying tickets for Blade Runner 2049, its current attraction.
Bergeron said he feels a strong connection to the area and derives great pleasure from being the only theater to serve the community.
"This is one of the last working-class neighborhoods in the city," he said. "It's relatively unchanged. When a new business comes in, they settle in."
Competing with multiplexes is a tall order, but Bergeron said he and his staff but offer a personal touch that can't be replicated by corporate-owned theater chains.
On October 19th the theater is staging a special benefit show with four live bands, as well as art, zines and a raffle drawing. Managers Eva Treadway and Chloe Jinnever said they hope the evening's entertainment will help them forge a stronger bond with patrons.
"I grew up in the neighborhood," said Treadway. "It's a community-based place, a safe haven to hang out with friends. My co-workers are my extended family."
Jinnever pointed out that there aren't many live music venues in the Outer Richmond. "A lot of the people in the bands either work here or come here," she said.
She's is also the brain behind the theater's ongoing Rewind Wednesday series, which exhibits movies on VHS cassettes. "VHS is not pristine," she said. "It's nostalgic. I get my prints from Ebay, from thrift stores—before the movie I play 90s cartoons that I recorded off TV. There's also trivia and prizes."
This has been a hard year for theatrical exhibitors, with even industry giant AMC Theaters taking a financial hit, said Bergeron.
Davenzane Hayes, a manager and projectionist, said paying careful attention to programming and customers' needs will keep venues like the Balboa afloat.
"Every moment, decision, and screening counts," he said.
"Unlike at one of the larger multiplexes, at the Balboa you're not an invisible part of the process. I get costumers coming up to me and thanking me and the staff for our working and making the show possible," Hayes added.
Though Bergeron said the future is looking bright, keeping the theater operational will always be a struggle.
"In the best of times we'll barely hang on, and that's OK," he said. "We'll make it by picking the right movies, by not missing great specialty movies and by being friendly."
Just then, Bergeron broke away from the interview to exchange greetings with a customer he recognized by name.
"It's about people spreading the word," said Treadway. "I want my friends coming here for forty years."
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