Columbia City Cinema Shuts Down--Latest in String of Film House Fatalities

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The message on the Columbia City Cinema website reads "It's been a long great run but it's over. The cinema is closed. The city killed it." Of course, Seattle Assistant Fire Marshall John Nelsen has another story, one that involves CCC owner Paul Doyle (the same man who tried to sell "stock" in his theater without a permit) never installing the proper exits or fire sprinklers that city code requires. But whoever's right, one thing's certain: It's a bad time to be a small cinema owner.

First, in November of last year, the Uptown Theater on Queen Anne Avenue closed after 84 years in business. The owners said the reason was it "no longer competes effectively in the marketplace."

Then, in December, the venerable Neptune Theater in the U District announced plans to close for similar reasons, only to be sort of saved by the Seattle Theatre Group through a lease transfer that will see the building turned into a music and art venue (apparently with occasional films).

Then, just last month, the Landmark Cinema chain--a 55-theater chain which in Seattle includes Harvard Exit, Guild 45th, Egyptian, Metro, Seven Gables, Varsity, and Crest--went up for sale at the order of owner Mark Cuban (of Dallas Mavericks and HDNet ownership fame).

And yet, meanwhile, global box-office revenue climbed 8 percent last year to a record high of $31.8 billion on the backs of 3-D ticket prices and big-budget blockbusters.

So having a theater is, in many cases, a guaranteed moneymaker. But that's apparently only when the owner gets the rights to screen Avatar and Toy Story 3--and when they install the fire sprinklers they were supposed to ages ago.

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