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A pothole at the entrance to Carmike 8 in Decatur.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
A pothole at the entrance to Carmike 8 in Decatur.

Caution tape in the lobby: Does Decatur cinema deserve ‘Plain Sight’ status?

By Holly Hollman
hhollman@decaturdaily.com · 340-2445

My story assignment was to go to the movies.

Woohoo. The Daily treating me to two movies? Can’t beat that.

The purpose was to compare movie-going experiences in Athens and Decatur because the newspaper had received complaints about the Carmike 8 in Decatur and compliments about Cinemagic in Athens.

If I compare my movie-going experiences to theater popcorn, then Athens was like eating popcorn slathered in butter and sprinkled with salt. The Carmike was like eating the stale, butterless variety.

I’m not alone in that assessment.

Yahoo! Local has a section for movie theater reviews.

Athens received comments like, “Cinemagic Theater makes for a great night out for our family,” “I want to go over and over,” and, “We’ll make the drive from Huntsville more often.”

Carmike comments included, “A little smelly,” “The only good thing about this theater are the people who work there,” and, “The chairs swallow you whole, and the floor is sticky like a spider’s web.”

One Daily reader submitted Carmike as a Hiding in Plain Sight, a regular Daily feature.

“Potholes all over the road,” the reader wrote. “The building is dilapidated. Nasty carpet. Dirty and broken seats. Torn curtains. It is a disgrace. On our last visit there, I asked the manager for a garbage bag to put over the seat before I would sit on it.”

Brad LeCroix and Samantha Henson at the Cinemagic snack bar in Athens.
Daily photo by Brennen Smith
Brad LeCroix and Samantha Henson at the Cinemagic snack bar in Athens.
Moviegoers will be glad to hear that the Carmike is installing new seats with cup holders. Manager Bruce Declermont said each of the theater’s eight movie viewing areas will get new seats.

Declermont said the potholes may or may not be on Carmike property. He said a driveway runs through the theater’s parking lot, and he is not sure who owns it. The driveway granted access to Ryan’s, which has closed that restaurant location.

As for my theater comparison, I must note that Athens benefits from being newer. The five-screen theater opened in May 2006.

Opened in 1982

Carmike opened in 1982 as Century Cinemas, advertising in The Daily that, “Movie going takes a giant step forward.” It opened with four movies, “Bambi,” “E.T.,” “Firefox” and “Hanky Panky.”

It has experienced more spilt colas and discarded gum than Cinemagic, and that was noticeable when I went to the Carmike to watch “The Brave One.”

Caution tape surrounded an area in the front lobby where floor tiles were missing.

The theater had a musty smell, in fact, the bathroom looked and smelled cleaner than the movie area. A friend and I tried to find chairs without ripped upholstery or stains. As we waited for the movie to start, we spotted ripped curtains, missing floor tiles and torn ceiling tiles. When I leaned back too far, several seats connected to mine rocked because they weren’t bolted to the floor.

There were no cup holders, and we warily placed our drinks on the floor.

Carmike has gone digital, and we had no complaints about the sound or picture, other than we could occasionally hear what sounded like crashes that were occurring in the neighboring movie.

Declermont said that to his knowledge, other than the new seats, Carmike’s corporate office has no plans for other renovations in the near future.

For 75 cents less — Carmike charges $7.75 — I saw the movie “The Kingdom” at Cinemagic, which has stadium seating.

All the seats had cup holders, and there were no unidentifiable smells.

Athens Cinemagic owner Ralph Freehauf said he incorporated what customers would want in a theater.

“We want repeat business, so we have wide seats, stadium seating, big screens, a digital sound system and surround sound. We tried to put in top-notch equipment.”

He’s getting that repeat business. His attendance has increased 10 to 15 percent since his first summer, Freehauf said.

“We know East Limestone people will go to Huntsville, and South Limestone likely will go to Decatur, but we can get the rest of Limestone County as well as the Pulaski, Tenn., area and Rogersville area,” he said.

In addition to five indoor screens, Freehauf operates an adjacent drive-in screen that is open year-round. Freehauf opened the drive-in 10 years ago.

“We wanted to do an indoor in 1997, but it was cost prohibitive at the time, so we went with a drive-in,” he said. “The drive-in did well, we got equity built up and decided to do an indoor theater.”

Freehauf said he chose Athens because he and his wife, Carlen, have lived there since 1971, and because the city did not have a theater.

The last one that operated in Athens closed in the early 1980s, he said.

Only in Athens

And no, sorry Decatur, he has no plans to open a new theater in your city.

“We’ll stay in Athens. If we went to Decatur, we would have to compete against two chains, Carmike and Regal,” he said. “Carmike has switched to digital, and Regal has digital sound. I’ve been in the movie business for 35 years. The rule of thumb is one screen per 10,000 people. Decatur is pretty well screened right now with 16 screens.”

Carmike and Regal River Oaks have eight screens each.

Freehauf also is excited about the growth occurring around his theater.

A place called Mac’s Sports Bar and Grill is planned next to the theater, and retail businesses like a credit union and hair salon and gym are operating nearby.

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