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What to say about the Lexington Park AMC Theater? In short, it's an under-staffed, under-cleaned, unmaintained, and an overall crappy theater. When I go there I expect to sit in a broken chair, get my shoes stuck to the floor, have the projector roll, and listen to not just my movie but the one next to mine too. The last five or so times I have been there they have not even asked to see my ticket even though I bought it online. Oh, then there's all the stories I've heard of muggings outside the theater and rats inside. Some stories are more believable then others, but I'm sure that there's a good amount of truth to most of them. This is what I know and have heard about the only public theater in St. Mary's County.
Now what everyone wants is for a new theater to be built down here in St. Mary's. From what I've heard everyone pretty much expects a state of the art, stadium seating, THX Dolby Digital surround sound, 15 Screen Theater that's open all the time, and has tickets for under $10. Well that might be exaggerating a little. I have heard a few that would just like a clean theater, but you get the point. They also think that the County Commissioners can do this for them. I hate to burst your bubble, but I don't think it's within their power.
I'll give you a little history, then I'm going to play devils advocate for a moment or two. It wasn't but few years ago that a deal was made with a developer to build a shopping center with a new theater. It was the intent, as far as I know, that the developer intended to keep his word. So said developer went to the movie theater companies and asked them if they would like to build a theater down here. The movie companies came down and did a case study of the area to see if the area could support a new theater. They looked at the population, surrounding area populations, did surveys of the people in the area, and looked at how the other theaters in the area were doing. This information helped them make a decision on whether the area could support a new theater. At the end of the day, the movie theater companies looked at the data and just were not willing to invest the money in a new theater down here.
Ok, devils advocate time. I know that you're all saying "A movie theater would be a hit down here. They'd make tons of money." From the consumer point of view I would say the same thing, but when you look at it from the business owner's point of view you might see it differently. You, the future business owners are going to have to come up with millions of dollars to open a brand new state of the art theater. So before you do anything, you look at the data. St. Mary's County population 2008 estimate 101k. Not bad, if you look at the previous data you can see the population is growing. Surrounding counties, oh, it shows that only one other county touches St. Mary's. That doesn't seem right, so you pull out your map... well look at that, it's a PENINSULA! But you give them the benefit of the doubt and can see that there is a bridge from one other county. So Calvert County's population 2008 estimate 88k and Charles County's population 2008 estimate 140k. Now you can't use they're full populations because you wouldn't expect them all to drive down a peninsula, so we'll say half of each adjacent county would possible come. That puts the total possible attendance population at about 215k or so, probably less. Now let's look at the theaters that are in the area. Ok, there is only one in St. Mary's, the ACM in Lexington Park, but that's good, they must have sold out shows every day of the week. Nope, doesn't look like it. Seems they just only started having daytime shows during the week, and ticket sales to anything past opening weekend look mediocre. Same deal in Calvert County, too, and they don't even have daytime shows during the week. Lastly, the survey of the population indicates that for the most part people seem to want a new theater, but when asked how many times a year they go, it's only a few times a year, if that. So as a future business owner, are you going to invest your life savings into building a brand new state of the art theater? Personally, I would have to say no, unless I could find some way to save a lot of money up front.
I know everyone is now depressed about not getting a new theater, but maybe we can just get AMC to have the owner fix/update the existing theater. I hate to tell you this, but I'm going to anyways. The owner will not put any more money into this theater because at this point he or she owns it outright. To bring this theater up to "today's" standards, the owner would have to put so much money in to it, it's just not cost effective. As it is today, it is a steady stream of income, and to maximize that income the owner will put out as little money as he/she can. Now AMC could drop their name from the theater, if it gets really bad, but for the most part they're in the same position as the owner. This theater makes them money. If AMC was to drop their name, the owner would just get the movies himself and make more money. He may not be able to get the latest and greatest movies, and since there are no other theaters within 20 miles, I'm sure he will fill enough seats.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for a new theater, or at least some option. That's just what I'm going to give you here, some options.
Option number one, continue to go to the movies at the AMC in Lexington Park. Don't expect anything to improve; try to enjoy your movie and popcorn. There is one thing that could be fixed in this option, and that is the crime outside the theater. Additional police patrols could be added to help deter crime. Your County Commissioners and other local representatives could help with this.
Option number two, try to get everyone to stop going to the movies down here, which is going to be hard to do. The result, if it was possible, the movie theater would eventually close. But that would only prove the point that a new theater could not be supported, so no new theater.
Option number three, my favorite option, COMPETITION. There are two possible routes here, go small or go big.
The small option would be to open a one screen theater. This theater would not have a large selection of movies, maybe only one or two titles a weekend. But it would offer a great movie-going experience, one were you can go to the movies and hear only the movie you are watching, sit in comfortable chairs and hopefully not have to worry about your shoes sticking to the floor. It could also offer a classier experience than most theaters, maybe one where you could get a beer and/or some real food.
The big option would be to open a brand new multi-screen theater. If you could gather enough support and money, find some incredible deal on land and labor, and you had some huge cojones. I would suggest that you do your homework and make sure that you have a realistic business plan before you jump in over your head.
My hope with option three is that competition might drive improvement, and improvement is always wanted by the consumer.
I hope I did not discourage anyone from continuing to complain about the quality of service that you are receiving because they can't fix something, if they don't know it's broken.
In closing, I hope that we see some changes starting to occur down here in the County. A new theater would be great, but really any kind of new options would work. I think that it's going to take more than some complaints to start this change. Someone is going to have to put their neck on the line and take a chance. If anyone is willing to take this chance and open a one screen theater, I would be willing to join them in this venture. I hope I can help.