Tulare movie theater readies for beer, wine sales

The Fresno BeeDecember 18, 2013 

Customers at the Galaxy movie theater in Tulare could soon opt for a glass of wine or beer to wash down their popcorn and Red Vines.

The business recently won city permission to serve the alcoholic drinks, and its application for a beer and wine license from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is pending.

If approved, Galaxy would become the first movie theater in the region to join a growing national trend of first-run movie houses offering adult beverages.

Customers want the option of sipping more than a soda, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners based in Washington, D.C. But some movie patrons question whether a venue that draws children and families is the right place to serve alcohol.

"Some people overdo it," said Angel Carreles, 27, of Porterville, as he walked into the Tulare Galaxy theater last week. "Maybe if they have a limit it'd be OK."

"Brew and view" theaters are already strong in Texas and the Northeast, and the trend is moving into California, according to Patrick Corcoran, spokesman for the National Association of Theatre Owners.

Theater chains that are leading the way include Alamo Draft House, based in Austin, Texas, which is expanding into California, and Studio Movie Grill in Dallas.

They offer not only beer and wine but also dinner at the movie theater, Corcoran said. He described how the climate has shifted:

For years, major movie-production companies were reluctant to allow alcohol at showings of their first-run movies for fear of hurting their image. But in the late 1990s, Disney gave permission for a movie to be shown at a theater offering beer and wine.

"It did really well," Corcoran said. "This is a chance to bring in revenues."

Word got around the industry that beer and wine boosts concession revenues, an important revenue stream for movie theaters. About 700 to 800 theaters in the United States serve alcohol, but statistics on concession revenue increases are not available.

According to In Focus, the group's industry magazine, some theaters have separate family and adult-only areas while others have over-21 policies. Some require patrons who buy a drink to wear a wristband. A two-drink maximum is common at mainstream movie houses.

Galaxy Theatres recently launched beer and wine sales in Atascadero.

Customers want the option of ordering beer and wine, Galaxy CEO Frank Rimkus told The Tribune of San Luis Obispo this month.

"We had a lot of people saying, 'Well, gee -- we'd like to have a glass of wine or beer and take it into any of the theaters,' " Rimkus said. "So what we're doing is really responding to public demand."

No start date for Tulare has been announced. Rimkus did not return numerous phone calls from The Bee but said in an email, "We have no current plans to begin service at this time" in Tulare.

But at a Tulare Planning Commission meeting last month at which the company sought a conditional use permit, Rimkus told commissioners that a customer could only buy one drink at a time, must show identification and would have a two-drink limit.

There will be a separate room for buying the beer and wine, possibly with a few seats in the serving area, he told commissioners.

Servers will be trained in checking identification, he said. Although nothing is foolproof, the ABC monitors licensees and imposes stiff fines for violations, he said.

The theater's manager, A.J. Taylor, told commissioners that a full-time manager will oversee the alcohol and servers must pass a test.

Some commissioners asked that beer and wine not be sold before noon at the earliest, but the commission voted unanimously to approve the conditional use permit, to be reviewed after one year.

It may take awhile for the public to get used to the idea of alcohol sales at the movie theater.

"I wouldn't drink a beer and watch a movie," said Valerie Medrano, 27, of Porterville. "When I drink, I'm out having a conversation and having a good time, not watching a movie."

Robert Cranston, 44, of Visalia, who has two children in college, a child in high school and another in junior high, said he opposes beer and wine sales at a movie theater,

"People don't act responsibly when they drink, from my experience," he said.

Abel Garcia, 22, a student at College of the Sequoias attending a showing of "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," said it's fine with him if Galaxy wants to serve beer and wine, but "at a theater, I want popcorn and a soda."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6104, lgriswold@fresnobee.com or @fb_LewGriswold on Twitter.

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