Another Rambo in the movie business? Yes, but at least this one is staying offscreen.
Like Sylvester Stallone's alter ego, Allan Solomon is resorting to extremes to win a war. He turned a formerly shuttered Blue Island, Ill., movie theater into something like a giant living room, equipping it with such luxuries as cozy leather chairs, soundproof box seats, and butcher-block tables.
Why the latter? To help viewers do what to Solomon matters most: dine. The flick itself, posh surroundings and all, costs just $1.50. But by offering a menu that most movie houses couldn't accommodate, Solomon has customers spending almost three times the industry norm on munchies.
"This is a good way to fight back" against the videocassette recorders and cable-fed televisions that keep people at home, he says. In true Hollywood fashion, the former realtor already has three sequels in the works. All of them, as was his first, will be rehab jobs on abandoned movie houses.
Like most theater owners, Solomon makes his money from the snacks, which carry a healthy 50% markup. The difference is in the volume: a conventional movie house takes in about $2.50 per person. At the elegant Oscar I, the average is nearly $7. Beer costs $1.50, chicken wings are $2, and a large pizza goes for $9.
To keep costs down, Solomon resists showing films until a few weeks after they are released -- avoiding sky-high rental fees. And because the theater serves only finger foods, labor is relatively cheap. Some 17 waiters and waitresses can handle the 400-seat movie house.
While Solomon is focusing on the Chicago area, theater owners from all over are watching his screen test. Since he opened a few months ago, attendance has increased steadily. "This concept will spread," he predicts. "It's bringing some people back to the theater."
But aren't viewers distracted by all that nearby chomping and chewing? Solomon claims that his "all-around sound system" blocks out the noise. It also helps that the tables are about a foot apart. And nothing seems to deter the snackers. When he showed a gory shoot-'em-up recently, Solomon was surprised to discover that the customers, on average, spent a dollar more on food. "There was more blood on the screen than you would believe," he says. "But people love to much."