New legislation would allow beer, wine at movie theaters

Moviegoers soon may be able to enjoy alcoholic beverages at movie theaters in Washington state.

Legislation that would allow theaters to obtain a beer and wine license for $600 a year passed the state House of Representatives on March 5 and now is in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.

In Lewis County, two film venues — the Midway Cinema and the Fox Theatre — support the new legislation, which, they say, could provide increased revenue.

One other venue, however, likely is the less enthusiastic. The Olympic Club, a multipurpose facility that includes a hotel, a restaurant, a bar and a movie theater, already allows its movie patrons to imbibe and could see increased competition should the legislation go through.

John Schweiger, the owner, president and CEO of Coming Attractions Theaters, Midway Cinema’s parent company, said he is “extremely interested” in the possibility of serving alcohol at his Chehalis theater. Schweiger said he already has a proven model — one that he would implement at his Chehalis theater.

Coming Attractions’ Wasilla, Alaska, venue for two years has served booze via a small, on-site bistro and a theater concession stand. The latter resides in one of the complex’s 12 theaters; that theater is open only to those 21 and older.

Wasilla’s model has been lucrative and easy, according to Schweiger.

Customers are limited in how much alcohol they may purchase and where they may consume it — rules that, according to the owner, have kept the theater trouble-free. “We’ve had absolutely not one problem, not one problem with intoxication,” he said.

Schweiger attributes the financial success of his Wasilla model, in part, to a recession that has forced some people to alter their spending.

“The economic crash of ‘08 is still going on. I don’t believe a doggone thing the government says about things looking up,” he said.

Accordingly, the average person has less money in his or her pocket and goes out less often.

When people do go out, however, they’re willing to pay a little more for an enjoyable night, according to Schweiger.

“Combining dinner, drinks and entertainment is something customers are asking for,” he said.

And it’s something the owner has long dreamed of implementing in Chehalis, where, currently, 2,500 square feet sit unused.

Schweiger said he has struggled to find a use for the space and had settled on a video game and party room — until he learned about House Bill 1001.

“It’s the perfect location for a bistro like Wasilla’s,” he said.

Schweiger’s enthusiasm does not, however, extend to his other Washington theater. He is unlikely to purchase a beer and wine license for his South Shore Mall-based theater in Aberdeen. As one of the few venues rented, not owned, by Coming Attractions, the Aberdeen theater must comply with additional regulations.

At the Fox Theatre, the ability to sell booze would have little immediate impact but could provide benefits down the road, according to Scott White, president of Historic Fox Theatre Renovations.

As a nonprofit, the theatre currently can apply for a special occasion license that allows for the sale of beer and wine on a case-by-case basis. Nonprofits may apply for that license up to 12 times in a year, at a cost of $60 per license.

But as operations at the theater — which is currently under renovations — gear up, a blanket license could prove more convenient than a one-timer, according to White.

“People are used to being able to buy a drink, and we might want to be able to sell beer and wine without having to buy a special occasion licence,” he said. But that decision is far from concrete. “We would want to think long and hard,” White added, “before dealing with serving alcohol where minors are present.”

Specifically, House Bill 1001 creates a theater license to sell beer and wine for consumption on theater premises. It requires that theaters applying for the license create an alcohol control plan, submit it to the Liquor Control Board and display it prominently on theater premises.