Garner movie theater shuts down

Staff writerOctober 5, 2010 

The struggling Garner Towne Square movie theater has closed, with its owners blaming the slow economy and a lease dispute with the shopping center's landlord.

Friday night was the theater's last. The signs, fixtures and other equipment are gone.

"We really tried. We didn't want to have to do this," said Hope Branch, director of operations for Carolina Cinemas. "We were paying extremely high rent in a dying shopping center. When you're barely in the black, it just wasn't good for our company."

The small chain bought the 10-screen theater in May 2009 from Regal Entertainment Group, which still holds the lease. About six months ago, the companies asked landlord Regency Centers for a break on the rent, citing slower ticket sales.

Regency said no.

"Lots of retailers have been asking for help" during the downturn, said John Pharr, Regency's senior vice president for the Southeast. "We may be sympathetic ... but we can quickly see who's really hurting and who's crying Wolf."

Officials took into account the relative financial strength of Regal, the country's largest cinema chain with more than 500 theaters, he added. "This was really a dispute between Carolina Cinemas and Regal."

Regency has turned the matter over to its lawyers, who will try to work out a settlement with Regal, Pharr said.

The real-estate company will focus its attention on what else could go into the Garner Towne Square space, but it's unlikely to remain a movie theater. Some former theaters have become vocational schools or medical facilities, Pharr said.

Even before the recession, the Garner theater faced tough competition from White Oak 14, a newer, stadium-style theater about five miles away.

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