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Dickinson closes its third Springfield movie house

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by Karen E. Culp

SBJ Staff

If you want to see a movie on the north side of Springfield, there's only one place to go.

The Town & Country Cinema is the only northside Springfield movie theater now that the North Town Mall Cinema has closed. The North Town theater, the third theater owned by Dickinson Theatres to close in about a three-year period, showed its last movie Aug. 2, said Bill Burnett, executive vice president of Dickinson Theatres.

Dickinson now retains only three movie theaters in town: the Town & Country, the Fremont and the Dickinson 8. The Town & Country and Dickinson 8 are both first-run theaters, but the Town & Country has a discount ticket price. The Fremont is a sub-run theater, or dollar house, said Gary Downs, marketing director for Dickinson.

"When the North Town opened, it showed first-run movies exclusively. It was a first-run theater all by itself," Burnett said.

Burnett was, at one time, manager of the Century 21 movie theater, which closed in 1997.

The four-screen North Town was purchased by Dickinson in about 1982 or 1983, Burnett said. The theater had been losing money lately, so much so that its closed cost is less than its open cost would be, Burnett said.

"About three months ago, we knew we were closing it. We decided that Sunday (Aug. 2) was the time to do it," Burnett said.

For the past several months, beginning around September 1997, the North Town had been a sub-run theater, showing second-run movies for $1.50 a ticket.

"We thought if they wouldn't come

see us for full price, maybe they would come see us for the reduced price, but

they didn't, so we're closed now," Burnett said.

The theater space is 16,889 square feet in size. Dickinson's lease on the property is up in December, and at that time it will remove the fixtures it owns inside the theater, such as screens and seats.

"We hope we can use those fixtures in some of our other theaters," Burnett said.

The nationwide trend toward megaplexes is hurting smaller theaters, and killing single-screen theaters like the Tower and the Century 21, both Dickinson properties now no longer operating in Springfield.

"When you buy a movie, you have to buy it for four or five weeks. Now if that movie doesn't fill seats, then you've got no other revenue coming in to a single-screen operation," Burnett said.

Dickinson is in the megaplex business itself; it opened one in Wichita, Kan., recently, and will soon open a 20-screen theater in Tulsa, Okla.

The company is looking at Springfield for potential expansion, but has not made any decisions yet.

"Springfield is definitely a market where we see growth. We aren't sure what will come about there yet, but it's on our drawing board," Burnett said.

The absence of theaters on the north side is attributable Springfield's growth pattern, Burnett said.

"I was watching the south side grow and grow when I was there, and that seems to be continuing. And if people can get something closer to their home, they're going to do it," Burnett said.

Burnett said there are no plans at this point to close the Town & Country.

"It's making money. We'd close it if it weren't. Like everyone else, we're in business to make money," Burnett said.

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