An iconic piece of Stettler history is going up for sale once more.
Stettler’s 70 year-old Jewel Theatre, owned by Wendy Rairdan and family, is going to be going up for sale in February after around three years of ownership.
During a “Future of the Jewel” meeting held on Jan. 10, Rairdan said that while there was some good news for the movie industry, there were many challenges that a small, single-screen theatre faced.
“The film industry is in real flux,” said Rairdan.
One issue theatres are currently facing is a lack of quality movies; due to two years where things were shut down, movie production schedules were significantly delayed and according to Rairdan it won’t be until later in 2023 before the movies start releasing more normally.
Another issue facing theatres, single-screen or otherwise, is the changing theatrical release window. Where there used to be a year or more delay between a movie hitting theatres and being made available for home release, in today’s realm of streaming movies are often hitting home television screens in as little as 45-days.
“This is not going to get better,” said Rairdan.
A third issue independent theatres face is studio contracts. According to Rairdan, a studio will take anywhere from 48 to 65 per cent of the ticket sales for a film and the amount isn’t usually known until the theatre actually has the film in hand.
Additionally, Rairdan says studio contracts will have clauses in them preventing anything else from being shown on the screen, except for the contracted movie, during the run of the film.
Issues outside the film industry have also had their impacts on the Jewel.
According to Rairdan, staffing and equipment have been two major headaches. She noted that she had two staff quit no-notice during the fall, which put a significant strain on remaining staff and impacted the theatre’s ability to provide top-notch customer service people expect.
“You can’t throw enough money at this,” said Rairdan, noting that even high pay hasn’t been enough to keep staff.
The staffing trend isn’t just limited to the Jewel; according to a Statistics Canada report from earlier in January, Alberta’s unemployment rate is sitting around 5.8 per cent and there are around 100,000 job vacancies in the province.
On the equipment side, the projector and popcorn maker have both continually needed multiple repairs over the last couple of years, and the furnace for the 70-year-old-building dates back to construction.
When the projector died again in December, it was for the last time; it now needs to be replaced at an expense of around $60,000. In total, with the three projects — the projector, popcorn maker and furnace — expenses are totalling around $122,000 for 2023, and that doesn’t count the multiple upgrades and renovations that have already been completed.
However, as of a Jan. 13 update to the theatre’s website, a new projector is already on order.
To help create a secondary revenue stream for the theatre, Rairdan created Reel Good Coffee, a coffee shop, out of the theatre lobby, which has been helping bring in some revenue. As well, even with movie showings on pause, thanks to a backup popcorn maker, theatre popcorn continues to be a good seller.
While Rairdan was non-committal as to what the future would hold during the Jan. 10 meeting, the announcement about the theatre being put up for sale was made in the same Jan. 13 update as the projector.
According to the update, while the theatre will not be showing movies for the foreseeable future, Reel Good Coffee remains open for business, as does popcorn sales.