Creative outlets close

Orange County lost two different creative venues this week. You probably heard about the Carolina Theater in downtown Chapel Hill. Last night was their final showing of films. This great loss means even fewer options for alternative films, fewer cozy venues downtown, possibly less locally-owned businesses, and certainly more control over what we see and hear by large multi-screen theater chains.

Today is also the last day of business at the Main Street storefront of Temple Ball Gallery/De La Luz performance space. Although less people were impacted by De La Luz, the performances and other events they hosted were quite unique and not like anything else you could find in town. For example, there are precious few places where a handful of Tibetan Buddhist monks could set up shop for over a week to painstakingly create a sand mandala, where a struggling 'zine publisher could host their Weird Movie Night, and where some incredible jazz, funk, and rock bands could really tear down the house.

Both businesses are closing due to financial inability to keep the doors open. Both have a base of loyal customers, but apparently not enough. With Southpoint next door, and a possible Wal*Mart on the way, I have to wonder how many other local business are struggling under the weight of multi-national chain stores? Remember the Intimate Bookshop?

Thankfully we are still blessed with a few great movie theaters in Chapel Hill as well as the ArtsCenter in Carrboro. Some might say that this is enough. I say we can always use more places for the exhibition of creativity.



Why is this the first I've heard about The Carolina closing?


We attended the 7pm Thursday showing, partially for nostalgia but also to see the kid suitable flick "March of the Penguins".

My wife and I were just talking about how we'd go to some real lousy movies at the Blue & White just to get out of the heat - and then we found ourselves standing in a long line on a sweltering night to visit the end of an era.

A number of people in line said they wanted to be there for the last days of a place they enjoyed for decades. One couple I spoke with said they'd been going ever since they moved to Chapel Hill in 1960.

They were selling tickets so fast that they just a pile of loose 10's and 20's on the ticket counter. The place was packed. It's a shame to took a closing to get such a great outpouring of patrons.

Now, with 4 vacant businesses in that building, I wonder what's next for Franklin St.

It's hard to blame Southpoint or Walmart for the present state of downtown, which is probably at least partly to blame for the failure of specific businesses. Downtowns in many cities are doing well, and virtually all of them have similar malls and big boxes on the outskirts. I would say that the last fifteen years are considered fairly successful ones for downtown revitalization schemes nationwide. Clearly, no store at the mall directly competes with Temple Ball. Keep in mind that both Raleigh and Durham support full service independent bookstores, although the competition with the big chains is, if anything, more direct. Chapel Hill doesn't seem to have much of a strategy to keep the buildings downtown occupied. Nor are there often events downtown to bring people there. Complaints about the parking situation are relentless, but nothing is ever done. If you want to use public transportation, you cannot go to a movie at night. The downtown is a tribute to the principle that even in an area with an extremely high density of creative people, if you don't do much of anything, you'll wind up with a bunch of fast food franchises and bars.

I heard that Temple Ball's landlord doubled their rent, effectively forcing them out. I don't know any numbers, but I'm going to guess they were paying something less than $2K/month originally, so the new rent could be $3-4K. Who can afford that?

Downtown Chapel Hill rents are ridiculous as well.. I don't think we can blame Southpoint or New Hope Commons for the demise of small, locally owned businesses when there's a serious shortage of affordable retail space. The office supply store that used to be on Franklin St. was paying something like $6K per month.

Mark Chilton and I have been talking about the absence of a movie theater in Carrboro. We both would like to see a nonprofit venue that could support feature length films, independents, family, and creative media of all kinds. We have so many creative film and video artists and high quality festivals like Hi Mom and Flicker. Wouldn't it be great to have a place that could be a home for the moving arts?

On Wednesday August 31 at the Century Center we're showing the locally made documentary Monster Road. It's about the animator Bruce Bickford and was made by Bret Ingram and Jim Haverkamp.

Our goal is to raise awareness, support, and funds to create a nonprofit venue. Hopefully this showing will be the first of many until we can obtain a permanent space.

The ArtCenter used to show movies at Carr Mill.

The Andrew-Riggsbee site seems large enough to hold a theater or other gathering space, with the benefit of municipal parking close by. Why couldn't that area work? Or is it a lack of entrepreneur/investor?

Joan, I don't know what kind of rent they would want for the Andrews-Riggsbee building, but I imagine that it would be prohibitive. For example, the word on the street is that the owner of the former Temple Ball building wants well over $3,000 rent per month. It's hard to generate over $100 per day to go to rent.

Meanwhile, Brian and I figure that if we want to see movies in downtown Carrboro, then we will need to make it happen. So mark your calendars for August 31; our first feature will be Monster Road. Here's the website for the movie:

Carrboro Parks and Rec has been showing documentaries at Century Center for the past year. Last night they showed Ken Burns' Statue of Liberty and another film called Rollercoaster (my stomach was upset by the end). Earlier this summer we saw the Childrens' March. These films are exceptionally well attended and the audiences are quite diverse. $3 admission includes drinks and popcorn. Mark--maybe you should consider including Parks and Rec in whatever it is you are doing since they've already got a successful program up and running!

Mark and Brian, where are you all showing Monster Road?

The Lumina in Southern Village seems to be doing okay (and is owned locally, right?). Granted, it's got four screens... and obviously isn't a non-profit. Plus their summer weekend outdoor movies seem well attended. Plus the area offers a smaller version of what downtown Carrboro has, with a strollable area, parking, etc. Why wouldn't this model work in the Andrews Riggsbee area? Is it too small?

Documentaries are the Century Center are great, but I'd love to see some first-run stuff, whether Hollywood or not.

On the subject of alternative film in the area, check out this, which the Center for Documentary Studies is showing next week, on a topic that people might find interesting:

Wednesday, August 3, 7 p.m.
*"MLK Boulevard: The Concrete Dream"* (60 min)
Marco Williams: Writer/Director/Producer
Center for Documentary Studies Auditorium

In the United States, there are more than 680 boulevards, avenues,
streets, drives, and lanes in towns, counties, and cities named in honor
of slain Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. In fact, there are
more streets named for King than for any other American, except for
presidents Lincoln and Washington (even more than for JFK or FDR). Why?

"MLK Boulevard: The Concrete Dream" (2003) takes the viewer on a journey
to thirty of these locations, from Eugene to Muncie, from Atlanta to
Memphis, seeking to determine whether these streets recognize an African
American icon or commemorate an America hero.

Winner of the National Association of Black Journalists 2004 Salute to
Excellence Award: First Place, Discovery Times Broadcast

Filmmaker and film educator Marco Williams is a guest instructor at this
summer's Documentary Video Institute at the Center for Documentary
Studies at Duke University (July 30 - August 6).
Williams is a member of the faculty in the Undergraduate Film and
Television Department at New York University.

Regarding movies in Carborro, someone could get inspired to copy the Santa Cruz Guerilla Drive-In. No rent to pay. All you'd need is a projector, a radio transmitter for the sound, and a big wall somewhere.

Ed, although I had not heard of the Santa Cruz Guerilla Drive-in, that is not far off from a model that Brian and I considered. To address some of the other commenters above: 1) we are working with Rec and Parks, 2) we are in touch with the folks who put on the summer documentary series "American Summer" (mentioned above), and 3) we plan to show a variety of movies types. The key point is that there needs to be a regular and reliable motion picture presence in downtown Carrboro and we need to bring together a lot of different folks to help make that happen (in whatever form). If you would like to be involved, please contact me at and come see Monster Road. No admission is being charged.

I've *totally* thought about doing a Guerilla Drive-In. Thanks for the link. Time to just do it...

This strikes me as a pretty interesting project. I like going out to movies but the available fare is often less than inspiring.

The series at Santa Cruz indicates that you don't need first run films to have a strong line-up that can appeal to a lot of different interests.

This could be the answer to the question: where does the jazz brunch crowd go after the lights go out? (other than home to put the kiddies to bed).

I first heard about this on NPR, and it struck a chord with me, as well. There are no royalties to be paid, because there is no admission charged. It sounds like the main challenge would be to find a suitably dark place with a light-colored wall. I'd be interested in helping with this.

Interesting thread---Lots of 'word on the street' and 'I would guess' speculation here about the role that the rental situation at Templeball played in it's demise, the common theme being that the loss of Templeball was a result of nefarious external forces driven by predatory landlord practices.

The reality (just had a conversation with Rick Ramirez---owner of Templeball), is that the increase was far less than 'Rumour Control' has postulated here (I won't get into specifics), and was only one of many factors leading to Rick's decision not to continue. Here are a few things I do know:

1. Rick Ramirez is a remarkable, visionary person who gave us three years of great performances and a unique venue for expression. I had the pleasure of working with him on a number of shows. Templeball, it it's current form will be missed, but mark my words, we haven't heard the last from Rick.

2. The live music/performance business is an extremely high-risk/low margin enterprise, with high fixed costs: On a typical show, the venue only gets 20-30% of the door. For a small venue, or a show featuring a not-so-well known performer, this revenue stream frequently amounts to pocket change. When one factors in the fixed costs such as rent, high utility costs(lighting and sound systems are thirsty beasts), labor (sound engineer), one frequently needs a near sellout just to break even. For more well known acts, there is a lurking monster known as the 'guarantee': This is a fixed fee that must be paid to the act regardless of the take. Frequently in the $2-5,000 range, even for a relatively small venue, the House only begins to take it's cut after the guarantee is met. It doesn't take Paul Krugman to figure out that just one or two poor showings on guaranteed shows can be disastrous for a venue without a large cash float.

Some will argue that this can only happen as a result of poor planning. Not so. Even the slightest miscalculation ---e.g.:ticket pricing too high or low; booking an act that's gotten huge national press, but inexplicably generates no local interest; the artist's agent dorks up and fails to put the date in the act's P.R. Or, just rotten luck: Somebody books a bigger act that steals your crowd across the street the day after you execute your contract; bad weather; all the free press you were about to get evaporates 'cuz Dubya makes a surprise appearance in infinitum.

As this illustrates, one can't make it on 'the door' alone. As such, concession sales are almost always a critical revenue source. Unfortunately, this aspect is subject to the same vicissitudes---If nobody's there for the show, you're not gonna sell much beer.

My point here is that a three-year run in this business is more than respectable, and that in an enterprise as chancy as this, Rick did remarkably well given the eclectic, and largely non-commercial material he presented. Sometimes somebody (Frank Heath comes to mind) hits on the magic formula, but it's rare. Rather than hand-wring over what hidden hand rang down the curtain on Templeball, I prefer to give a big tip of the hat to Rick for his success, and hope the next ventures---Both Rick's and the next one in that space---(Stay Tuned) do as well.

3. The more overarching point raised above about the lack of affordable space is correct---In fact, there's virtually no vacant space of any kind (except for the aforementioned Andrews-Rigsbee)---In Carrboro, anyway--- which only compounds the problem. The obvious solution is the creation of more space. Lots of work has gone into this, and we're on the cusp of some real progress, but some folks who are extremely wary of change of any kind might want to think twice about what you ask for---You just might get it.


A couple of points worth mentioning on the Lumina. I recently attended a discussion on "Southern Village at build-out." Developer DR Bryan intimated that the theater is not making a big profit, and may not even be breaking even.

However, he also stated that they have done surveys showing that 60% of the people who go to the theater also eat at the restaurants or shop on Market street, so they knew from the beginning that the Lumina was an amenity to support the business climate there.

He has some other investors from N Raleigh who are in it with him, in what he described as a "labor of love." After hearing this, we've been trying to see our mass market movies at The Lumina in order to help insure it sticks around.

I saw one show at Temple Ball, it was a great, warm, intimate smoke-free performace, with a very hospitable staff. I'm sorry to see it go.

I don't think we can blame Walmart (or even BN) for the death of the Intimate. THAT was a case of expanding tooquickly into other markets/cities and then being unable to pay the suppliers in a timely fashion. Understandably, it became difficult to obtain books to SELL--and a vicious circle ensued. (Krispy Kreme is having a similar problem--whom should we blame for KK's problems? Atkins? Dunkin DOnuts is still going strong!)

In other words--poor management doomed the Intimate chain.

As to Temple Ball--I was surprised they re-opened after their drug bust.


Re: affordable retail space -- last year I attended one of the meetings about the proposed main street development and brought up the idea of setting aside some space for very small, affordable spaces -- something on the scale of 120-200 square feet. I had just been to Buenos Aires, where the downtown area has many "gallerias" like that, each with dozens of glass-fronted mini-shops that are occupied by a wide variety of retail and service businesses and craftsmen & women.

I'm sorry to hear about both businesses but glad to see that this is a topic of conversation.

Ed Neely's comment about the live music business are quite accurate. As owner of Local 506, my goal each night is for the door to cover the cost of putting on the show (soundperson, doorperson, door taxes, etc.) and then hope the bar makes enough to cover all the other overhead, including the costly advertising it takes to get people to actually come in the first place.

Needless to say, the door only covers that cost two or three times a week, making many nights complete losses. One of the options I'm now considering is being closed more often to curb such cost; thus, in turn, further reducing the outlets for music in this town.

What bothers me is that the triangle music scene continues to get such high praise (number two college music scene in latest Rolling Stone) when the infrastructure to support it continues to struggle - in addition to Temple Ball, Ooh La Latte, Martin Street and Go Studios have all closed in the last year.

As owner of Local 506, I actually have another job which is how i can continue to pay my own rent. Which, in turn, doesn't allow me to do everything I'd like to see 506 do.

Anyway, I'm glad people are talking/listening - and hopefully something positive can come of this.

Glenn Boothe
Local 506

For anyone inspired by the Santa Cruz Guerilla Theater: keep in mind that these folks may very well be in violation of copyright law (though of course it'd up be up the copyright holders to go after them). The issue is not necessarily money charged nor royalties paid. Unless you have written permission of the copyright owner, you might be violating copyright (I'm certainly not a lawyer, but a librarian-in-training who just took a copyright law class; I could be wrong and am open to hearing that!).

Here's the text of the Copyright Act, Title 17 of the US Code:

The specific section of interest might this, concerning exclusive rights in copyrighted works:

Section 106 gives the copyright owner the following (excerpts are quoted directly from the code):
Subject to sections 107 through 122, the owner of copyright under this title has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following:......
(4) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly;

(5) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to display the copyrighted work publicly; ...

I was lunching today with a business owner in the Eliott Road center. We watched as the construction trailers for the theatres were pulled out. This means they're really not going to rebuild the theatres, she said woefully.

The conversation drifted to a fantasy solution that would restore theatres at Eliott Road and undo the pissing contest that ensued during that whole debacle. Parking seems at the core of it all. How lame. Why can't there be an acceptance of inadequate parking? Why not expect people to come in on those fare-free buses to a new theatre venue? Where's the leadership to turn that into a performance venue that would benefit the area restaurants and encourage more walking from University Mall? Criminy ... it's SO CLOSE BY!

Spoiled, spoiled. That's what we are. Everyone wants to park their Range Rovers at the front door and walk right in.

Jean, I agree with the sentiment of what you're saying, but a lot of those buses don't run at night. Indeed, as many grad students know, there are only a few buses that run much past 9pm. (As an example, evening classes in my department end at 8:30, but the last bus on my route leaves the Varsity at 8:21.)

Thanks, Glenn (I think you were referring to my post, actually): I feel your pain.

On the Movie subject, thought y'all'd like to know that Jon Wilner (over here at the ArtsCenter) and the folks at HiMom are already in the process of putting together a regular, reliable source of motion picture presentations ---an ongoing series of 'mini-festivals', if you will---to take place on a continuing basis here in our Earl Wynn Theatre. We should have it ready shortly. Would've said something earlier, but wanted to check w/ Jon before spilling the beans.


Home Movie Day (August 13) is another way Carrboro could continue it's support for quirky arts. Home Movie Day is a national event dedicated to preserving family memories that have never been seen for lack of a projector, or out of fear that the films were too fragile to be viewed. NC State is the only North Carolina venue. Here's an interesting interview with sponsors of the 2003 New York event.

Maybe one of our many candidates for Alderman will add a 2006 Carrboro event to his/her platform! :)


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