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The Show Must Go On : Customers are staying away in droves after the quake but are expected to return soon.

January 28, 1994|PATRICIA WARD BIEDERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The post-quake period has been rough on parents. The little ones believe it is their God-given right to sleep with Mom and Dad in perpetuity. And the older kids, many of them suffering from involuntary mall withdrawal, are barely able to meet their visual information needs with round-the-clock MTV. We have learned we can do without hot water. We can do without home-delivered pizza. But it's clear that we need every movie theater we can get. Film does more than Prozac can: give us some sorely needed peace by getting our entertainment-starved loved ones out of the house.

Happily, the Valley is almost back to normal, movie-wise. Last Friday the Peppertree in Northridge and its sister discount movie house, the Plaza in Newhall, reopened for business. According to Doug Endicott, who books films for those and other area theaters, the Peppertree suffered an estimated $25,000 worth of cosmetic damage in the recent Northridge quake. There was just enough unmarred space on the battered marquee to announce "Now Open," Endicott said.

That's the good news. The bad news is that customers are staying away in droves. "No one's coming," said Endicott. "People are too nervous." Predictably, moviegoers are more jittery the closer they are to the epicenter. Thus, the Peppertree, nerve-rackingly close to the seismic bull's-eye, took in $1,035 the weekend after the quake, only 13% of what it grossed the weekend before. The Newhall theater, not quite so epicenter convenient, grossed 37% of its pre-disaster take.

By Tuesday of this week, all seven screens were in operation at the Fallbrook General Cinema in West Hills. But things weren't quite back to normal at the concession stand. The quake did nothing to impede the traffic in such hardy movie-theater comestibles as Milk Duds and Red Vines. But, with the safety of the local water supply in question, the management had to find an alternative to its normal practice of mixing fountain drinks from Los Angeles water and soft-drink syrup. Instead, commercially bottled soft drinks and bottled water were being sold at the concession stand. Only commercially made ice was being used, purchased from sources approved by public health officials.

Two other General Cinema complexes in the Valley were still wholly or partially closed at press time. The GCC Sherman Oaks Cinema at 4500 Van Nuys Blvd. is located in two separate buildings, one north of Milbank Street, the other south. Damage to the southern site, which houses three screens, was still being assessed earlier this week, according to Ellen Aub, vice president for film marketing for General Cinema. The damage is repairable, she says, but she could not give an estimated reopening date. The two screens on the north side of the street (in the same plaza as the Hughes Market) were expected to be back in business today or Saturday.

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It's anybody's guess when the GCC Northridge General Cinema will reopen in the devastated Northridge Fashion Center. Damage assessment has barely begun. "We're not permitted access yet," Aub explained.

United Artists expects to reopen its Granada Hills theater today. Three out of six screens at United Artists Warner Center should also be operational today, says Neal Pinsker, UA general manager for California, Nevada and Arizona. Three additional auditoriums are awaiting evaluation by a structural engineer and could open as soon as next week.

Patrons of United Artists Valley Plaza will have to wait considerably longer. The North Hollywood complex suffered damage in the quake to an outside wall and to the decorative steel out front, Pinsker said. Inside, there was cosmetic damage, as well as shattered light fixtures and TV monitors. Pinsker was unable to estimate the dollar amount of the damage but says the theater will probably remain closed for at least two months.

Pinsker is confident that once people get over their post-quake fear of being inside buildings--any buildings--they'll be going back to the movies in record numbers. Pinsker oversaw UA's recovery operations in Florida and Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Andrew. Movies briefly went bust after the storm, he said, but ultimately boomed.

Mann Valley West in Tarzana suffered a still undetermined amount of cosmetic damage in the quake, according to Clyde Cornell, executive director of operations for Mann. "We hope--I guess everybody's doing a lot of hoping these days--to get under way again in two or three weeks," he said. "Luckily, our screens came through it. We did have to realign our projectors." The Mann Sycamore 6 in Simi Valley was more seriously damaged and will remain closed for at least a month.

Cornell, too, thinks the quake will ultimately help, not hurt, moviegoing. "Initially, everybody hunkers down, but that only lasts a couple of days, if that," said Cornell, who supervised the reopening of Mann's Northern California theaters after the Loma Prieta quake. After all, he pointed out, escape is what movies are all about.

At press time, the Pacific Galleria in the Sherman Oaks Galleria remained closed. Pacific representatives had not been able to get into the theater to assess the damage because Galleria officials were concerned about possible structural damage to the parking structure, according to Milt Moritz, Pacific's vice president for advertising and public relations.

But at Pacific Northridge Cinemas, four out of six screens are now in use. Damage to the two other auditoriums is still being studied, and no reopening date has been set, Moritz says. Business has been slow but not dreadful: Attendance last weekend was about 25% of pre-quake levels. Like other local businesses, Pacific Northridge has been holding an earthquake sale of sorts. All tickets are half price.

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