Finally, high-brow cinema – but at a price |

Finally, high-brow cinema – but at a price

Jim Scripps

In a town probably best known for its refined entertainment offerings (acts like ’70s favorite America last weekend, or KC and the Sunshine Band last month), it is no surprise that some future customers of the yet-to-open movie theater at the Heavenly Village are requesting high-brow cinema. Man (and woman) cannot live on dollar beer night alone. …

But in this case the greatest barrier to the success of appealing to the black-turtleneck crowd has no relationship to the demand. Unfortunately, our access to art films may hinge more on how we get there – and particularly, where we park.

After months of wrangling about price structures, traffic flow and other miscellany, the city (after consultation with its many-thousand-dollar parking consultant), finally worked out fees for the parking garage. As of this month, the city will charge $3 an hour to park at the city-owned lot, and when the theater opens Dec. 22, the garage will offer patrons 2 1Ú2 hours free. While this arrangement improves upon the zero free hours the city was considering, it is hardly enough time to take in a quality black-and-white cinematic masterpiece.

So the theater owners, fully aware of the economic restrictions this poses, would be smart to offer movies that run less than two hours. With the price of a ticket set at a jaw-dropping $9.50 apiece, and popcorn and a small Sprite running in the “high” range, penny-pinching consumers like myself will make sure we’re in and out before our free parking privileges are revoked.

This precludes my viewing of movies like “Gone With the Wind.” The 1939 classic runs over three hours – with an extra hour of parking, that tacks on $3 to an already expensive night. I might opt for something more along the lines of the 92-minute “Happy Gilmore.” This classic Adam Sandler flick is entertaining … and less expensive.

Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” runs 119 minutes. Calculate ticket time and previews, and you are looking at an extra $1.50 for parking. At 106 minutes, Tom Hanks in 1984’s “Bachelor Party” is a safer bet. It may not result in great cultural enrichment, but it will save me enough money to split a Jamba Juice with two friends.

As for new movies, I’ll have to wait to see Oliver Stone’s epic “Alexander” until it hits video. It’s three hours long. “SpongeBob SquarePants” on the other hand, is only 80 minutes. I’m willing to sit in a room full of screaming kids to save a few bucks, though I wouldn’t recommend SpongeBob as a date movie.

With parking rates at the garage resembling San Francisco more than South Tahoe, it’s hard to justify seeing a movie, at least a long one. It’s essentially paying out big bucks (movie) to pay out big bucks (snacks) to pay out big bucks (parking). I hate the embarrassment of sneaking in microwave popcorn under my jacket, so I think I’ll rent.

And parking headaches won’t just afflict local moviegoers at Heavenly Village, they’ll also afflict shoppers.

When the city allowed a free half-hour at the garage, a trip to Cold Stone Creamery (the renowned ice cream parlor) was worth it to me. It’s an expensive cone, but every once in awhile you’ve got to treat yourself. Not any more. My ice cream budget would be exceeded if I had to pay for parking, so I’ll stick with Baskin-Robbins (also a very good cone). It’s no skin off my back, but I suspect a lot of local residents feel the same way I do, and their shopping habits will reflect it. In a small town like ours – even if we can afford it – paying for parking to spend money shopping is principally wrong.

Ultimately, the city is in a pinch on the garage. As long as it can pay the debt, it owns the parking structure and needs to charge accordingly.

But the people who live here don’t have to use it. That’s where the pinch comes in.

Merchants do have the power to boost their bottom line in a deal with the city that allows validation, and more than a dozen have already signed up. When the local shoppers go to Heavenly Village, they probably aren’t there to window-shop or preview time shares. They’re there to get coffee, or eat dinner, or even grab a scoop of ice cream. In the end, as long as locals have to pay for parking – even a small amount – they likely won’t. There are many other places to go, including the casinos next door, that don’t charge for parking. We’ll have to wait to see how many more merchants will offer validation, but they all should (even though their prices will probably reflect it).

So while we look forward to another movie theater option in our small town, our ability to affordably enjoy it may rest more on the city’s decision about parking than on our decisions as consumers. It’s enough to make you ride your bike.

– Jim Scripps, managing editor of the Tahoe Daily Tribune, can be contacted at

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