Grandin Theatre Stretches Out With Non-Movie Events

The Grandin Theatre marquee: more than just a movie house?
The Grandin Theatre marquee: more than just a movie house?

Ian Fortier, the new executive director for the Grandin Theatre Foundation since early September, came aboard with at least one mission: the former director of patron services at Jefferson Center wanted to grow the number of events at the Grandin – besides showing first run films, its bread and butter – in order to improve the bottom line.

With a reported 90 percent of the Grandin’s revenue coming from the showing of feature films, Fortier wanted to have more options to make money. (Fortier replaced long time executive director Kathy Chittum last month.)

Fortier’s first attempt at diversification was a showing last weekend of a documentary on the growing craft beer industry in Virginia, “From Grain to Growlers,” and a beer tasting session with local microbrewers like Big Lick Brewing, Flying Mouse and Chaos Mountain.

“We are Roanoke’s oldest independent non-profit movie house,” noted Fortier, who adds that being “shackled to Hollywood” also means sending back a large portion of any movie ticket sales to the production companies. Independent movie houses that are successful around the country are so “generally because they have a largely diversified income revenue stream. They’re not just showing movies. They’re also incorporating live local events.”

That could mean staged plays, standup comedians, or maximizing “dark space,” said Fortier, with private parties, business meetings and presentations. Education matinees that can attract as many as 200 8th graders coming to watch movies like ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ because they are all reading it in school, is another option according to Fortier. Those types of events can help sustain the Grandin Theatre Foundation, leaving it less susceptible to the vagaries of Hollywood – and competition from the newer multiplex theaters nearby.

From Grain to Growler “sort of landed in my lap,” said Fortier, who saw the film as an opportunity “to discuss topics that are socially relevant,” while also drawing a crowd to the Grandin – perhaps some for the first time.

“In the last three years Virginia has seen a very large explosion in the craft beer industry,” said Fortier; “we’re now the fourth ranked state in the union behind California, Colorado and Oregon. Which is amazing to even being mentioned in the same breath.”

Those states had a big head start on craft brewing noted Fortier, but a change in state law that allowed microbrewers to start selling their own products on site led to the creation of profitable tasting rooms – and a boom locally in the craft beer industry in just a few short years.

After the tasting session and a viewing of “From Grain to Growler,” a moderated panel discussion on the craft brewing industry took place during the Grandin Theatre event. Panelists included Larry Landolt, the former Event Zone executive director, who has just started running brewery tours – along with his guided food tours.

Fortier said Roanoke is developing its own “beer district” with microbrewers like Soaring Ridge and Big Lick Brewing downtown, and establishments like Beamer’s 25 that serve a variety of beers on tap. Blue 5, which Fortier called a “regionally recognized tap house,” also has plans to start making beer as a “nanobrewery,” a classification of microbrewer that’s smaller than the norm.

Big Lick Brewing on Salem Avenue, started by schoolteacher and home brewer Bryan Summerson – is also classified as a nanobrewery. Throw in the Wasena Tap House and other outliers, and you have a “beer loop” said Fortier, who contends that the craft beer movement isn’t focused on drinking, it’s about quality. “It has such strong ties to recreation [and] economic development and job creation. You can’t outsource brewers.”

The “From Grain to Growler” showing and the beer tasting beforehand was Fortier’s first attempt at diversification for the Grandin Theatre, in an effort to grow the revenue stream. Stay tuned.

By Gene Marrano

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