Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill Tuesday that allows small movie houses, such as the Kiggins Theatre in downtown Vancouver and the Liberty Theatre in Camas, to serve beer and wine in their auditoriums even when children are present.
Under the new law, which takes effect July 27, theaters with four or fewer movie screens can apply for a $400-a-year beer and wine license. If the theater plans on having minors in the auditorium where alcohol is served, then it must submit a plan to the state's Liquor Control Board that explains how it will prevent underage drinking in the auditorium.
Kiggins owner and operator Dan Wyatt attended the bill signing, state Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, said. Wyatt traveled to Olympia a couple times during the 2013 regular legislative session to advocate on behalf of the legislation. Kiggins currently has a lounge area, but it's separate from the theater's auditorium.
"It was great to have people who had a hand in the formation of the bill be there," Moeller, the bill's primary sponsor, said.
For small theaters, the ability to sell alcohol without a restaurant license or a cordoned-off bar area could be the difference between business success and failure, small theater owners have said. The law would allow parents and their underage children to all watch the same movie, while the parents enjoy a glass of beer or wine.
In Washington state, large theaters with several movie screens have the luxury of serving alcohol in designated theaters where minors are not allowed. Additionally, many Southwest Washington residents are accustomed to enjoying the theater pubs in Portland, and the new law will help small movie houses in Washington compete in that market, supporters of the legislation said.
"I think this levels the playing field," Moeller said.
Moeller, who frequented the Kiggins Theatre in his younger years, said the law also will help preserve historic movie houses and revitalize downtown areas.
The Liberty Theatre hopes to begin serving beer and wine in its auditorium by October, Rand Thornsley, the theater's managing director, said recently.