Valley River Cinemas closes its doors

Theater couldn’t compete with Anchorage, Wasilla


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Eagle River’s movie theater has closed due to lack of revenue. There are no immediate plans for the vacant building, said Hickel Investment Company, which built the theater in 1985.

MIKE NESPER

Due to lack of revenue, Valley River Cinemas has shut its doors.

“The theater was not making any money,” said John Schweiger, president and CEO of Coming Attractions Theatres, Inc., which leased the building on Business Boulevard in Eagle River from Hickel Investment Company. “It was strictly a business judgment.”

Eagle River’s theater couldn’t compete with Regal Cinema Tikahtnu Stadium in East Anchorage less than 11 miles away, Schweiger said.

“They’re gonna take the majority of your business,” he said.

While Tikahtnu “didn’t help,” the opening of The Valley Cinema in Wasilla — which Schweiger owns — in April 2011 was what put Eagle River’s theater out of business, said Hickel Investment Company Vice President Wally Hickel.

Schweiger agreed, saying Chugiak-Eagle River residents who aren’t driving to Anchorage to catch a flick are going to Wasilla’s newest theater.

Schweiger also cited the cost it would take to upgrade Valley River Cinemas’ out-of-date technology — it still used 35mm film — as a reason to close down.

“It’s an old theater and it’s obsolete,” he said. “In order to justify the expense of operating the theater … several million dollars would have needed to be spent.”

It would cost an estimated $1.2 million to transfer to digital, Hickel said. And that price tag doesn’t include upgrades the theater needs, he said.

Both Hickel Investment Company and Coming Attractions agreed closing the theater was the best course of action, Schweiger said.

“It was not a split decision. It was unanimous,” he said. “We had to shut that place down.”

Hickel Investment Company built Valley River Cinemas in 1985 and has owned it since. In March 2011, Coming Attractions leased the building.

Within six months, Schweiger said he knew the theater’s fate.

“We saw the handwriting on the wall that fall,” he said.

Schwieger said he decided to see if anything would change after one more summer.

“It did change,” he said. “It just got worse.”

For now, the building is vacant. Hickel said the company has no immediate plans for the now defunct movie theater.

With the large investment needed to update the theater, Hickel doubted that an identical business will replace Valley River Cinemas.

“It most likely will not be opened as a movie theater,” he said.

 

Contact Mike Nesper at 694-2727 or mike.nesper@alaskastar.com.

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