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Published: Sunday, 5/1/2005

Cla-Zel ending long run as movie theater

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BOWLING GREEN - The Cla-Zel bills itself as the oldest continuously operating first-run, single-screen movie house in Ohio.

On Saturday, the theater is getting out of the movie business, said Paul Yon, who volunteers as development director of Cla-Zel Inc., the nonprofit entity that bought the theater in 2000.

The Cla-Zel opened in April, 1926.

"The reality sets in that you have to do something," Mr. Yon said. "You can't continue to lose $30,000 a year and remain in business."

The Cla-Zel intends to continue as a performing arts venue, and theater trustees are talking with the city and such local groups as the Black Swamp Players and the Bowling Green Symphony, he said.

The decision is regrettable, said Ray Browne, a retired Bowling Green State University professor who founded the popular culture studies department there.

But the trend is natural.

"Every entertainment era slows down and ends," Mr. Browne said. "Bowling Green has now reached that. [The Cla-Zel] has been a financial drain. The cluster entertainment houses have simply taken the people and their money away."

Theater trustees made the decision at their board meeting Tuesday, Mr. Yon said. The non-profit group has raised $33,000 by offering memberships and holding a gala.

But a single screen can't compete with multiscreen complexes - like those at Woodland Mall and the recently opened cinema at Levis Commons - especially when movie distributors require a theater to run a film for at least three weeks.

"If we show a film for three weeks, the last week and a half, we don't make any money on it," Mr. Yon said.

The fees paid for movies and the payroll - the theater only has part-time employees, including its manager - added up. "Revenues just didn't keep pace with the expenses," Mr. Yon said.

The nonprofit made repairs to the roof and spruced up the lobby and marquee. But much needs to be upgraded, including the heating and ventilation system and the sound system. The theater's condition kept people away. "If you can't get good movies, and you don't have a venue where you can make the patron comfortable, they're just not going to come," Mr. Yon said. "If they're not going to come, you have to get out of the business."

The Cla-Zel has tried to offer art films, independent films, unusual films. Its current offering is an animated Japanese film.

"People say [a theater with such films] makes them feel warm and fuzzy - and say, 'I just don't have time to take in a movie.' Warm-and-fuzziness does not correlate to dollars, unfortunately," Mr. Yon said.

Contact Mark Zaborney at:

mzaborney@theblade.com

or 419-724-6182.



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