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MainPlace Theater to Close, Victim of Area's Cinema Glut

Movies: AMC's six-screen venue was squished by competition from megaplexes, including one of its own.


In the latest fallout from the movie theater industry's financial crisis, AMC Entertainment Inc. said Wednesday it will shutter its six-screen cinema at the MainPlace/Santa Ana mall at the end of today.

The MainPlace theater, which opened in 1987, has been hit hard by competition from flashy megaplexes, which Kansas City-based AMC, Edwards Theatres Circuit Inc. of Newport Beach and other companies have been building while shutting down smaller, older theaters.

In particular, AMC's MainPlace theater has struggled to compete with a couple of megaplexes in nearby Orange, including its own 30-screen theater at the Block at Orange--an entertainment-laden shopping center that has been a magnet for youth and has cut into sales at more traditional malls like MainPlace. The AMC theater at the Block is now the Southland's highest-grossing movie house.

Because the number of customers at the MainPlace theater was dwindling, it was unclear how much effect the closure will have on the mall. Nor was it clear Wednesday what would take the place of the AMC theater, if anything. The management office at MainPlace declined to comment Wednesday, and the mall owner, Urban Shopping Centers Inc. in Chicago, could not be reached.

Anchored by Nordstrom, Macy's and Robinsons-May, MainPlace is one of Orange County's major malls, with taxable sales of about $284 million in 1999, according to Santa Ana officials. But in recent years, sales at the 190-store MainPlace have been relatively flat. Even though that area's population and overall retail sales have been robust, MainPlace has not kept pace with newer shopping centers such as the Market Place in the Tustin and Irvine area and the Block or more upscale malls such as South Coast Plaza.

Some merchants at MainPlace fretted that the AMC closure will only make matters worse. Tina Graves, assistant manager for Garden Botanika, said Wednesday that sales at her store fell shortly after the Block opened two years ago. She said her store now grosses about $1,500 to $1,700 a day--down from $2,000 a day before.

"It will impact everyone, not just me," said Julio Rosillo, general manager for Baja Fresh Mexican Grill at the food court near the theater. AMC had accommodated food court merchants by allowing customers to bring outside food into the theater, and Rosillo estimated that 25% to 30% of his restaurant's business had come from theatergoers. "Customers come before the movies, after the movies."

But other merchants and analysts said they believed the theater closure will have little effect on the mall, since the theater did not draw throngs of customers.

"I don't think it's a big deal," said Allison Smith, a sales leader for Victoria's Secret.

Gregory Stoffel, a retail expert at Gregory Stoffel & Associates in Irvine, agreed. He said the six screens had been drawing a total of only about 100,000 customers a year.

"I don't think it's going to be but a blip on the radar screen for them," he said. "It's one of AMC's worse performing locations in Southern California, and it's only a-mile-and-a-half away from their best."

AMC officials did not provide customer or sales figures for the MainPlace theater. But they said the company had attempted to upgrade the movie house in recent years, adding digital sound and cup holders. MainPlace also tried to compete with lower-priced admissions. General admission at MainPlace cost $6.75, compared to $8.50 at the Block.

Still, like many of the older theaters, AMC simply could not compete with the jazzier theaters all around MainPlace and the glut of movie houses in the region. Greg Haller, manager of both the Santa Ana and Orange AMC theaters, said the MainPlace theater started losing business when the Century Stadium 25 in Orange opened in 1998, and it only got worse when the Block appeared later that year.

"It's one of these theaters that gets squished when the megaplex comes along," Haller said of the MainPlace AMC.

The MainPlace theater has 10 employees, all of whom will be offered other jobs, Haller said.

AMC also said Wednesday that it is also closing a 10-screen theater at the Chino Town Square at the end of today.

For AMC and other theater chains, the closures of smaller theaters are the consequences of a five-year building binge that left movie exhibitors with too much debt and too many movie screens. And the older theaters have become a major financial drain.

The crisis has reached such a pitch that a number of theater chains have sought bankruptcy court protection, including Edwards, the Southland's largest movie-house operator. Filing bankruptcy enables exhibitors to break free of long-term leases at sites where they have poorly performing cinemas.


Curtain Falls on MainPlace AMC

Dwarfed by larger complexes in central Orange County, the six-screen AMC theater at MainPlace/Santa Ana will close today.

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