Serving alcohol in theaters might seem strange to some traditional movie patrons, but it's actually not that unusual and has been occurring for a few years in Clark County on a limited basis with no meaningful negative consequences.However, single-screen historic theaters such as the Kiggins in Vancouver and the Liberty in Camas are not allowed to serve alcohol where children are present. This compounds their already difficult competition against multiscreen, mega-theaters. Making the challenge even more imposing is the fact that small theater pubs in Portland serve alcohol; unknown numbers of patrons dismiss the Kiggins and the Liberty and venture across the river.
Fortunately, a worthwhile solution is making progress in the Legislature, led by prime sponsor state Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver. Under House Bill 1001, a $450 license would allow certain movie theaters to serve beer and wine even when children are present. Rigid safeguards make the bill deserving of broad support from legislators, particularly Clark County's. A similar bill passed the House last year with bipartisan support and was due for a vote in the Senate when the Legislature became bogged down in resolving the budget shortfall.
Last Wednesday, a substitute bill with minor revisions advanced out of the House Committee on Government Accountability & Oversight, and is headed for the House Rules Committee.
Current law in Washington prohibits the sale of alcohol in theaters when children are present. Large theaters such as Cinetopia have separate "living room theaters" that serve adults only, but smaller theaters such as the Kiggins and the Liberty don't have large enough buildings to keep pace.
Thirty-seven states already allow retail alcohol sales in theaters with no significant problems occurring. And the safeguards built into Moeller's bill include the requirement for an alcohol control plan to be submitted by applying theaters to the Liquor Control Board, a mandatory training program for all servers of beer and wine at theaters, and the adoption by the Liquor Control Board of strict rules regarding alcohol control plans.
A companion bill in the Senate includes among its co-sponsors Ann Rivers, R-La Center, and Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver.
The precise economic boost that this bill would provide is unknown but probably is significant. The HB 1001 report describes the potential impact locally: "As is the case in Vancouver, Wash., maintaining a vibrant independent movie theater in a downtown core can help revitalize older commercial areas and provide healthy nightlife where little currently exists." Vancouver has seen the Kiggins "attract evening customers downtown, rather than the malls, and has had some effect in generally bringing people back to the downtown businesses."
The blending of adults, children and alcohol already exists in many restaurants and sports venues. Remember, too, that attendance at theater pubs is a matter of personal choice; ample alternatives exist for people who would disagree with the new policy.
Other legislators should join Moeller, Rivers and Cleveland in expediting this bill.