So, Hearne just broke the story that the crown jewel in the Screenland Empire is soon to switch hands. But where does this leave the Kansas City’s beloved Movie Theater Mogul Butch Rigby? Rather great sources note that the guy and a few of his closes associates will now be doing business out of his house. But there are still the other links in the local Screenland chain to examine that also indicate it is going through tough times.
First, a bit of back story. Rigby wasn’t always the toast of the Kansas City film scene. He has a law degree and a license from the days of way back but he never made a big splash in the local legal community. Movies and the local film community have always been the first love of this local entrepreneur. Still, Rigby started out before the Crossroads boom and some really smart real estate choices propelled him to local mogul status. The Crossroads Screenland theater was the toast of KC when it opened six years ago. I was never a big fan because all my favorite movies are in the blaxsploitation genre, but I liked what Rigby was doing and I always felt there was a real community vibe regarding Screenland. So it was from the success of the Westside/Screenland Theater that the exploits of Rigby grew.
Fast forward to present day and Kansas City in the grips of The Great Recession.
First of all there’s the question of competition. Of all the Rigby locations, Screenland Armour seemed like the best bet to make it in the long run. But The AMC Mainstreet is eating into their business according to one local movie expert. Ticket receipts as high as 3-5k a weekend have now fallen to $1000 – $1500, with only the hope that folks are filling up at the snack counter and bar. Even more since harsh times makes folks long for comfort food. Still, there’s no question that AMC Mainstreet has taken away major business – reportedly in the neighborhood of 50 to 75 percent – from Rigby. Light at the end of the tunnel or too little too late? Screenland Armour has Ironman but then again everybody with a white wall and a projector does.
Then there’s the failed Screenland Experiment in KCK. They tried Obama rallies, a Theater Group and even Spanish Language movies but nothing has really worked. A local nonprofit –Imago Dei – is buying it from Rigby and running it now. Not as a movie theater. Screenland Granada was a valiant effort but to no avail in a part of town that hosts quite a few Latino video and record stores but no real theater.
Speaking of enclaves, Screenland is taking part in management deals in Crown Center and up in Liberty/Out North/Boondocks/wherever. These aren’t cash cows but folks who love the brand might find some hope in this new strategy.
So, what’s the next move for Kansas City’s movie mogul as video on demand, portable movie players and YouTube redefine the new digital age of media. Well, I’ve noted previously that Rigby’s going back to his legal roots with his Kander Rigby venture but I have to think that such a devoted cinefile will find someway to stay in the local movie biz despite some major setbacks for his brand.
Stay tuned for the Rigby Sequel.