Chilly mornings getting you down? One way to take a winter break is to board an airplane bound for the tropics, but another easier, less expensive way is simply to stop in at your local movie house.
“When you go to the movies, you could end up anywhere,” said Ryan Hecht, owner of the Clover Theater in Cloverdale. “You don’t have to be cold. It doesn’t have to be winter. You don’t have to be in America, or even on Earth. It’s a great little two-hour break.”
Hecht and his wife, Kathryn, both transplanted New York actors, took over ownership a year and a half ago of downtown Cloverdale’s four-screen theater, which had been open on and off since the 1950s.
So far, the couple has converted the Clover to a digital projection system and refurbished the lobby. This year, they plan to redo all four auditoriums, with new screens, seats and sound systems.
“It won’t be like watching Netflix in your living room,” Ryan Hecht promised.
The Hechts’ sustained efforts to upgrade the theatrical experience for Sonoma County film-goers are typical of ongoing improvements at other movie theaters all over the area.
The Raven Film Center in Healdsburg now serves food, beer and wine in all four of its auditoriums, so you can enjoy a quesadilla and a glass of white while you watch the movie.
“Anyone of any age can come into any of the theaters. But of course, you have be age 21 or older to be served alcohol,” said Dan Tocchini, president of Santa Rosa Entertainment Group, which owns the Raven Film Center, as well as the Roxy Stadium 14, Airport Stadium 12, Summerfield Cinemas and the discount second-run movie house Third Street Cinema 6, all in Santa Rosa.
Cinema West, which owns Boulevard 14 Cinemas in Petaluma and Sonoma 9 Cinemas in Sonoma, also is looking at the addition of food and beverage service, perhaps by the end of this year, said owner Dave Corkill.
“We’re considering our options, depending our how our test marketing goes,” he said.
Ky Boyd , owner of the Rialto Cinemas in Sebastopol, plans a “facelift” at the theater, to be unveiled in the spring.
“We’ll be expanding our lobby and updating the theaters upstairs and downstairs,” Boyd said.
The Rialto, like the Raven Film Center and Summerfield Cinemas, offers a mix of first-run movies and art, foreign and independent films.
“The line has blurred between art and big-budget studio films,” Boyd said.
Running blockbuster films in the same theater frees up movie bookers to take an occasional chance on films with a more specialized audience, Tocchini explained.
“It allows us a lot of latitude,” Tocchini said. “Some good films don’t play as well to the masses, so they can be moved into a smaller theater.”
The Rio Theater in Monte Rio, which originally opened in a World War II-era quonset hut in 1949, was bought last summer by a group of more than two dozen new owners and has begun to work out its own format for serving the unique blend of locals and tourists along the Russian River.
The Rio currently shows first-run films, but also maintains a busy schedule of community events, including a “Ping-Pong Palooza” tournament, archery lessons in honor of the “Hunger Games” film series and a program of dinners themed to match particular films, such as Cuban sandwiches with the movie “Chef.”