How History Lessons Could Help Carmike Cinemas Thrive During Hard Times

Carmike 15, Columbus, GA, home of Carmike Cinemas

One Ledger-Enquirer online reader, commenting on the story about Carmike Cinemas losing more than $18 million during the first quarter of this year, said the folks who run movie chains need to understand that they can make more by charging less.  Instead of charging $10 for a ticket and selling two, they could make a lot more by charging $2 a ticket and selling 20.  And that was exactly the philosophy back in the heyday of the movies.  I remember it well.  (Yes, I’m a geezer.)

Escaping the Great Depression of the 1930s,  people flocked to the theaters. For 25-cent evening tickets (25-cents in 1932 is $4.10 today) for adults and 10 cents ($1.64 today) for children they could enjoy a cartoon, newsreel, a short subject, and a movie, and in a few theaters like the 4,678-seat Fox in Atlanta they could sing along with a mighty theater pipe organ, and, like the 2,700- seat Royal in Columbus they could enjoy a live vaudeville show.  Also, there were Bank Nights which featured ticket stub lottery drawings for dishes, and other items, including some cash. 

Of course it didn’t hurt that TV didn’t come along until after World War II. (Because of the need to escape the realities of that horrible war, the largest movie audiences ever were during those four years.)   The only real competition was radio which featured comedy shows, dramas,  sports, live music, recorded music, and news.  Radio was popular enough to inspire the movie makers to feature radio stars like Jack Benny and Bob Hope in films, but without pictures radio couldn’t topple the film factories of Hollywood.    

I can remember all of that because I was around at the time.  And I can relate to the insiders of the movie theater business because I was an usher,  then a doorman who took up tickets and supervised other ushers at the first-run, 1,640-seat art-deco showplace called the Bradley Theater which stayed packed during World War II.  When comics Bud Abbot and Lou Costello pictures played on a weekend, the ticket line would go down  to the corner of Broadway and 13th Street, and then on down 13th Street to Front Avenue.   War-weary folks wanted something to laugh about.

Take advantage of this on Tuesdays when you can buy popcorn and a drink for $1 each and you'll have a really big deal.

If I remember correctly, the evening tickets at the Bradley in 1945, at 47-cents for adults and 14-cents for children, were the most expensive in town.  47-cents in 1945 would be $5.87 today according to the Inflation Caculator.  Evening ticket prices are close to twice that much now, but if you go between 4 and 5:30 p.m. hours you can get into Carmike theaters for $5. That means Carmike understands that a lot of people paying less can add up to more than a few people paying more, but if they really want it to make a difference they need to do it in the evening also.

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