Opening an art house cinema in the age of declining movie ticket sales and surging revenue for streaming services like Netflix might not sound like a smart business idea, but that hasn't stopped entrepreneur Alexander Olch from doing just that.
On March 4, Olch's two-screen movie house Metrograph opens for business on Manhattan's Lower East Side, with Martin Scorcese's Taxi Driver and Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo on the big screens. But this is not your typical movie theater. Built out of an old food storage warehouse, Metrograph also houses a standalone bookstore, candy shop, and restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Regular tickets are $15, with senior citizen and children admitted for $12. The first screening each day also costs $12. For the time being, roughly 60 percent of the films screened will be older films, with the remaining 40 percent being new releases.
The building is literally around the corner from Olch's other retail business, Alexander Olch New York, a five-person fashion company that makes neckties, bow ties, and pocket squares. The company's products are sold in Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, and Nordstrom, with additional distribution in Europe and Asia.
So why open a movie theater at the same time that Netflix's customer base is growing to include nearly half of all U.S. households? For Olch, comparing an evening at Metrograph to a night binge-watching on-demand entertainment is simply a case of apples and oranges.
"People are looking for a reason to go out," he says, adding that seeing a specific movie at an exact time is just one part of the lure of a place like Metrograph. "We're providing an experience that feels glamorous and evokes some of the magic of movie theaters that has now vanished."
Much of that magic comes from the interior design of Metrograph, which includes French-inspired Art Deco railings and theater chairs made from repurposed wood found in the old Domino sugar factory in Brooklyn, an architectural icon of New York City. Instead of standing in line at a concession booth, you can visit a standalone shop called The Candy Store to pick up pre-packaged popcorn and a diverse selection of exotic candies stored in wooden boxes, a design motif Olch borrowed from his fashion store.
"It's a very elegant experience that's actually easier than standing behind a counter and asking somebody to give the candy to you," he says, adding that he's "kind of obsessed with wooden boxes."
Metrograph's restaurant, The Commissary, named after the old commissaries at Hollywood movie studios, serves food inspired by old menus from the Paramount, MGM, and Warner Brothers commissaries. "The spirit of the place is very similar to an idea of an old movie studio in the sense that it was a very busy place where you would spend your whole day," Olch says.
Metrograph also expects to foster an environment inhabited by filmmakers that rent out screening rooms to industry executives, or use them for rough-cut screenings, film color-correcting sessions, and press screenings.
"It's really about creating an entire building that, from a business perspective, is generating revenue by keeping people in the building," says Olch, who has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from a group of equity investors.
But there's more than just the dollars and cents to his vision of a modern movie house filled with patrons from morning to evening.
"We very much hope that some of the next great screenplays get written at The Commissary here during the afternoons," Olch says.