Thursday, April 3, 2014

A Hope for the Return of Compact Cinema

Ben and Gayla at Compact Cinema.
Compact Cinema, the 16-seat specialty theater that opened just a month ago in 16 West in downtown Roanoke, has closed and the reasons are many. Mostly, though, it came down to "if you build it, they will come" not applying in this case.

Here is a wonderfully clear and thoughtful post from Gayla D'Gaia, who is involved with CC founder Ben Bristoll and who worked closely with him in opening and operating the theater. It is a cautionary tale sprinkled with optimism, giving you the strong faith that they'll be back, and this time with a better plan, a better location and some very good movies. I hope she's right. Ben and Gayla are a couple of people Roanoke needs. Here's what she has to say:

I want to share that, if people visit Compact Cinema's page, one thing they will notice is that Ben Bristoll gave a full report on his venue and why he was closing Compact Cinema at 16 West. Why he started it is what you really need to understand about Ben. He had a movie theater set up in his barn as a kid. He minored in cinema. He also knew all the businesses inside 16 West were having a hard time. Having remembered his love of the documentary venues in Upstate NY and how popular they were in Ithaca, he felt he would be helping to bring business and traffic into 16 West.
At the time he began modifying his store selling beautiful teak furniture made of sustainably harvested teak - called Compact Footprint - into a mini theater, he didn't think through the research. He went into action to help others with something he thought would fit well with the events focused venues held at 16 West. 

As tenants, we really did not fully understand the blueprints and implications of the expansion of Cork & Crust into a much larger bar... talks to resolve the schedule with the then manager of C & C led nowhere so he gave his all, thinking of how slow and sluggish the place had been over December.
Once C & C opened the expanded concept, his Friday night venue was no longer possible with bands playing outside his glass doors. The bands have been successful and his start up was simply too new to make a great impression. It became obvious that Ben would not be able to break even with the reduction of nights he would be able to count on.

He would have gladly stuck it out in other circumstances or reformatted the venue into a non-profit or film festival venue but night time use was not really an option.
I closed my physical location of Sacred Beauty Boutique at 16 West for some of the same reasons Ben stopped offering Compact Cinema. However, retail is MUCH harder than I realized in a brick and mortar environment... and sad as it is to see brick and mortar hitting a few walls, unless something changes with online buying, the trend in brick and mortar may continue... Check out Stand With Main Street to learn more...

Dan Smith, thanks for doing your first article on Ben... and this is important for people to understand about what's happening... Ben was looking out for others and fulfilling on something inside of him that's been there since he was very young - and not motivated by profit. He's a bit stubborn about certain aspects of design and development and he's already been offered alternatives for what's next. Thankfully, Roanoke has a great supply of business incubation support for budding entrepreneurs like Colab Roanoke! Designing the right format is worth the time it takes... However, a huge marketing budget wouldn't have done him any good with the changes that took place for evening hours at 16 West.

Businesses like Noke Truck have greater flexibility so be sure to say hi from me when you visit them for yummie crepes! those guys!

We showed Hungry For Change in 2013 there and had 30 people come watch it, a 5 person panel, and tons of energy and excitement... I think Roanoke is ready for some version of a documentary venue... and perhaps Ben is just getting started with cultivating new options for the local scene...
They say, "Fail Big and Fail Quick" in start up world... so you see right away if the template works as is or needs to be let go of and modified. Dream your dream and learn to modify as much and as quickly as needed - that is the new mantra.

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