Saving the Sausalito Theater on Caledonia Street

At the end of January the Cinemark Theater on Caledonia Street closed its doors ending a 70 year continuous run as a film venue. Sadly, the site was not profitable for the company; sadly, there were on average only 35 patrons a day at the theater; sadly, it was not supported by the community and was also a sign of the times. In our digital age the more traditional theater models can’t compete well. 

Residents raised a ruckus about the closure. The more uniformed lashed out about “greedy” property managers and owners, blaming them for the theater closure when in fact the owners have been quite accommodating and generous with their theater tenants. They didn’t raise the rent for 23 years. How many other landlords would be so charitable and willing to sustain a failing enterprise?

Other residents initiated a petition insisting the City “save the theater.”  Well, it is hardly the city’s responsibility to save a failing business in town.  That being said (and it being an election year!) as a nod to all the uproar,  the city council did put together a “Blue Ribbon" committee headed by Mayor Jill Hoffman to work with the property managers to try and find a suitable tenant for the site – a tenant that would still provide a theater for Sausalito. It remains to be seen whether this ad hoc group has any clout or not.

Sadly, it was the residents who needed to save the theater by supporting it before it closed. Not enough residents patronized the theater when it was operational. All of which is a reminder that unless we support our local businesses, they won’t and don’t survive.

There is no question that everyone in Sausalito would like to have a local theater, and I believe the property managers are committed to making this happen. But it all has to make economic sense and in todays on-demand, online streaming movie world, these can be lean times for conventional movie houses.

There are mixed use, innovative theater models that have done well elsewhere, combining first run movies with indie and art films, live performances & events, beer and wine, espresso cafes and other retail. A more diverse, community-based space might fare better, but to be economically sustainable it too will need the support of residents in a small town where their theater is competing with at least one movie theater in almost every other Marin County city.

Let’s hope the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Committee and the property managers will find a way to preserve a theater in Sausalito; it’s what most people in Sausalito would like. And if they do, let’s hope those restless natives who were so sad to see it close will support the new venture whole heartedly; you’ve got to sell a lot of popcorn to make film financially feasible these days.

NOTE: As a founding member of the Sausalito Film Festival with is about to launch its 8th season, our blogger Cheryl knows a bit about the trials and tribulations of the film industry.