In Our View: Victory for Local Theaters

Moeller's bill advanced by Legislature; beer and wine sales likely to be allowed

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Kudos to eight local legislators (out of nine) who supported a measure that likely will allow beer and wine to be served in one-screen theaters. State Rep. Jim Moeller's bill first sailed through the House by an impressive 90-4 vote, and last Friday a companion bill was approved in the Senate, 27-21. The House will need another vote on the measure because of amendments in the Senate, but a second approval there is expected.

This is great news for two local businesses, specifically, and two downtown areas in general. The Kiggins Theatre on Main Street in Vancouver and the Liberty Theatre on 4th Avenue in Camas have struggled for years to remain open. Attendant pressures of the Great Recession — plus the fact that much of the local small-theater business has diverted to Portland where small pub-theaters sell alcohol — have heightened the business challenge for both theaters. Large, multi-screen theaters have sold beer and wine in special sections of the establishments for several years.

Now, though, Kiggins Owner Dan Wyatt and Liberty Managing Director Rand Thornsley each have a new spring in the step.

"Once we get started serving (beer and wine), it will have a big impact on business … there's rarely a day that goes by that customers don't ask for it," Wyatt was quoted in a Tuesday Columbian story.

Thornsley said he was able to extend his lease for five years because of the bill's passage and the projected increased revenue.

"We think this is going to be the key to continued success and operation of the theater," he said. And, of course, officials dedicated to strengthening these two downtown cores are fortified by expectations of new business coming to the heart of each city.

In Clark County's three main legislative districts, eight lawmakers voted for this measure, the lone exception being state Sen. Don Benton, whose opposition was more than offset by four other local Republicans who voted for the bill. And if the two other districts that serve small parts of the county are included, nine Republicans from this area voted for the bill along with four Democrats.

Benton was joined by state Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, in voting "No." The logic of such opposition is difficult to grasp when you consider one point we made in a Feb. 3 editorial: 37 other states allow alcohol sales in small theaters with no significant overall increase in resultant problems being reported.

Additionally, numerous safeguards are built into the legislation that are meant to address concerns of critics: A $450 license will be required, administered by the state Liquor Control Board; each establishment must submit an alcohol control plan; and mandatory training programs will be instituted for all servers of beer and wine at theaters.

Precisely when the two local theaters will begin selling beer and wine is unknown, although Thornsley has said this could happen by October. This new bill makes the relatively small, one-screen theaters not a whole lot different than the many restaurants where children are allowed and where alcohol is sold. Common sense and courtesy will apply, and strict enforcement of state liquor laws must be maintained. We wish the Kiggins and the Liberty well.