Fade to Black: Kiggins Theater to close as operators bow out

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

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The lights will go out for good at the historic Kiggins Theater after Monday night’s triple feature.

The downtown Vancouver venue’s operators are a month behind on the rent, said Matthew West, one of two managers for Historic Movie Theaters, a Vancouver business that has run the theater since 2005. On Wednesday, the company gave notice of the closing to the building’s owner, Bill Leigh.

“He wanted us to pay an advance for next month. It’s almost impossible. If we could barely come up with the rent for this month, how could we pay in advance,” West said.

But Leigh, owner of Vancouver-based Leigh Properties, foresaw even greater challenges ahead for the theater, based on its past performance.

“They’ve been there a long time and it has struggled to a degree all along,” said Leigh, who has owned the theater and its adjoining retail space since 2008, when he paid $650,000 to purchase the site at 1011 Main St.

The landmark theater, which opened in 1936, is named after entrepreneur J.P. Kiggins, Vancouver’s mayor for 15 years between 1908 and 1935.

Leigh said he hopes the next operator of the time-worn venue will have more operational experience and working capital to refurbish the theater. He would like to attract a company such as Portland-based McMenamins, which operates a string of older, refurbished movie houses and brew pubs throughout the metro area.

“If I can attract another operator, they will definitely need to come in with experience and money,” Leigh said.

Although Leigh is hopeful, he does not expect to sign on a new operator in time for the summer season.

Like many businesses, most theater operators lack the financing to expand. Meanwhile, access to business loans continues to be a problem.

Leigh said he has invested $100,000 in upgrades to the building, including a new heating and air conditioning system, a restroom remodel and exterior paint.

He said Historic Movie Theaters started to renovate the 500-seat theater’s interior when its business started to falter. “The economy tanked and the theater was already struggling,” West said. “There was not enough revenue to cover operating expenses, much less capitalize the improvements.”

For the theater’s final weekend under his management, West said he plans to show a triple feature all through the long weekend. The delayed first-run movies are "Alice in Wonderland," "The Bounty Hunter" and "The Losers."

West said the Kiggins' doors and ticket office will open at 5 p.m. for the showings on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

West, 26, said he has heard from many longtime local residents who say they will miss the Kiggins.

“Some of them have been coming here since childhood,” he said.