Lance Alspaugh, who manages the modest Boulevard Cinema, doesn't really compete with the big boys on the east side of Topanga. If some high-tech theater complexes feel like the inside of a video game, the Boulevard feels like the inside of a classic movie house, the sort of dark, cool place you went to every Saturday when you were a kid and every Saturday night once you discovered that holding hands was even better than a double feature.
Playing in the Minors
As the only second-run theater in the neighborhood, the Boulevard plays in the minors against the West Valley's two other sub-run houses, the Holiday and Mann's Fox, both in Canoga Park.
Alspaugh opened the theater, which had been vacant for seven months, in June. He leases it from an out-of-state owner, and spent $10,000 installing a Dolby sound system, 450 new seats and a new marquee.
Like everyone else, he charges a small fortune for popcorn--$2.50 for 170 ounces.
On the other hand, a double feature at the Boulevard costs 99 cents, down from an initial $2.50, because audiences "weren't buying the theater at that price."
Alspaugh has a clear sense that he isn't selling any one film so much as customer satisfaction in getting a bargain. "A family of five can go to a double feature here for the price of a regular admission ticket at a first-run theater," he said. He recently distributed 2,000 two-for-one coupons in the area, making the same deal available to families of 10.
Leftovers Do Well
Until Friday, the theater was showing the latest James Bond movie, "A View to a Kill," and "Explorers." The latter died at the first-run houses across the country but has done well at the Boulevard, where it has been held over. At a reduced price, in combination with the Bond movie, "Explorers" is apparently perceived as a good deal if not a good picture.
"We got this picture by default," he said of "Explorers." Mann's Fox has corporate clout and skims off the movies it wants as soon as the first-run theaters let go of them. Alspaugh then arm-wrestles for what's left with the Holiday, an independent theater with a $2 admission and a track record attractive to film distributors.
"The Holiday got 'The Goonies' and 'Fletch,' which we would have been happy to get, and the Topanga Twin let go of this picture," Alspaugh said.
This Friday, he got "The Goonies" as well as "The Man With One Red Shoe," which the UA Warner Center had released.
Like the heavy hitters in their multiplexes, Alspaugh said, he prays that the air conditioning holds up. He's got to make his money while the summer sun shines.
"The 90 days from Labor Day to Dec. 1 are the most brutal for a theater," he said. "You try to do as well as you can in the summer in order to survive the fall."
Fortunately, popcorn has legs.