OAKHURST – People in the community are wondering what they can do to save the Met Cinema, but in reality, it would all be too little to late. As with so many things these days, it’s all about the bottom line.
Some are offering to have car washes and yard sales, but that “wouldn’t even touch what it would take. It would have to be a permanent change, not a quick fix,” say owners Ray and Irma Martinez who bought the business from Rusty and Sarah Murphy in May of 2008.
“We started looking for ways to cut corners even back then,” say Ray and Irma. “We have the same items that the Murphys sold, but we’ve worked with six different vendors, because some were cheaper for different items.”
They say it was far more time consuming on their part to deal with so many vendors, but they were determined not to raise prices.
Ray and Irma moved to Oakhurst in June 2008. Irma had been running a daycare center in Fresno, and caring for their seven children, four of whom are adopted, three with special needs.
Friends Jorge and Rosa Gonzalez were indispensable in making the business possible.
“They were there seven days a week for a year-and-a-half to help with the kids, allowing us to pursue a dream,” says Irma.
While Irma was running the business in Oakhurst, Ray was working in Fresno as a firefighter for Cal Fire.
“Ray would get off work and then hit Smart and Final, Costco, Sam’s Club… looking for the lowest prices,” says Irma. “We’ve even driven to Livermore to pick up products, because it was cheaper for us to drive over and pick it up than to have it delivered.”
The Martinezes say they did all that extra work, “because we were always getting complaints about how expensive we were.”
“The Murphy’s raised the ticket prices to $6 and $8 about a year before they sold,” says Ray. “But more than a year after our purchase, we would have people come in and complain that we’d raised our rates. We never did. I don’t know anything that has stayed the same in this economy, but our prices did.”
Things are not easy for anyone in the movie theater business these days. The many options people have available for watching movies now has definitely hurt the brick and mortar businesses. They make their money on concessions.
And the cost of products for the concessions keeps going up. Recently, there have been two large increases in the price of popcorn, says Irma. One increase of 46%, and as of Nov. 1, up another 37%.
With an $18,500 monthly rent payment on the building, the cinemas needed to take in $617 a day just to cover that expense. Then there are the usual costs of doing business, from insurance to PG&E, “and everything is going up.” says Irma. “Our power bill in July was $3,000.”
With the studios taking 75% of the ticket sales, and requiring a $5,000 to $10,000 up-front payment just to get a new release, the concession sales are crucial.
“We would let people know how they could save money,” says Ray. “We would refill their popcorn buckets at half-price when they brought them in. We had a red card program where they would get free admission after 10 movies. We would tell people in our newsletter, ‘this is how you save at the Met.'”
But despite their attempts to keep prices low, their cleaning crew was always having to haul out pizza boxes, Subway bags, McDonalds trash, and liquor bottles. They were also hard-hit when Dollar Tree went in just a few doors down, and people would buy their candy there before coming in to see a show.
Movie theaters are also dictated to by the studios which movies they will show. Even though the PG rated movies worked best for the Met, they were often required to show movies that would not draw large crowds, if they wanted access to the big releases.
“You have to take movies you don’t want in order to get the ones you do,” says Ray. If they made the $5,000 up-front payment on a movie, and they only took in $3,000, the theater had to absorb that loss. The studios also dictate how many times a day the movies will play, and how long they will run.
There are so many financial things that factored in to the closing of the theater, but Ray and Irma are grateful to all those who have supported them over these past four years, and are very sad to have “let the community down.”
The Martinezes say they were trying to get through the holiday season, their busiest time, and hoped that would help them turn the corner. But after meeting with their attorney earlier in the week, the reality of the situation led them to the stark conclusion that they could not continue past Oct. 31.
As they put things in order in their now-closed lobby, several people stopped by to tell them how much they appreciated them and would miss them. It has been a heartbreaking process for Ray and Irma and their entire family and crew.
One employee came up to say that the Martinezes were the “best bosses you could ever have,” and he thanked them for the severence pay. “Now I won’t have to cancel Christmas,” he said.
People who have purchased passes and gift certificates can contact the theater for a refund at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Irma asked that the media not publish photos of the family. “When you are opening and saying, ‘Hi, come by and see us!’ that’s one thing. Not now. This is a very sad time.”