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Foss: Allow alcohol in movie theaters?

Foss: Allow alcohol in movie theaters?

Foss: Allow alcohol in movie theaters?
Photographer: Gazette file photo

I once drank beer at a movie theater and, no, I did not sneak it in. 

I was in Portland, Oregon, where movie theaters are permitted to serve alcohol, and I'm happy to report that it was a pretty uneventful experience. No public drunkenness, no alcohol-fueled brawls. 

Forty-four states permit alcohol to be sold in movie theaters, but New York isn't one of them. 

At least, not right now. 

A new proposal from Gov. Andrew Cuomo would relax the state's prohibition on alcohol at the cinema, allowing movie theaters throughout New York to sell beer, wine, cider, mead and spirits. Another proposal, from Assemblywoman Pat Fahy, D-Albany, would legalize the sale of beer and wine at movie theaters.

I'm not opposed to selling alcohol in theaters, though I've mostly given up drinking beverages of any kind at the movies, mainly because I don't like cutting out to use the restroom. 

But I'm not strongly in favor of it, either. 

Cuomo and Fahy have both portrayed their proposals as a way to help struggling movie theaters at a time when more people are staying home to watch films via streaming services such as Netflix. 

That's certainly well-intentioned, but I wonder how rooted in reality it really is. 

If people have truly stopped going to the movies -- more on that in a moment -- the movie industry needs to take a good, hard look at why. 

All too often, streaming services are cited as the cause, despite evidence to the contrary. One study, commissioned by the National Association of Theater Owners, found that people who go to movies in theaters more frequently also consume more streaming content. 

"If the study's findings are accurate, it would appear that the two forms of entertainment consumption are more complementary than cannibalistic," an article in the trade publication Variety noted.  

Before I go any further, let me just say that I reject that notion that movie-going is in some kind of death spiral. 

It's true that U.S. box office revenue fell 4 percent in 2019, and that a number of high-profile films flopped. But moviegoers still spent a whopping $11.45 billion at movie theaters, which is a whole lot of money.

Again, I'm not opposed to allowing alcohol in movie theaters. 

But the movie industry's struggles shouldn't be cited as justification for doing so, because the reality on the ground is far more complex. 

People are still going to the movies, and the industry is still making money. When I hear Cuomo talk about how Millennials staying home to watch Netflix is killing the movie industry, I cringe, because it just isn't true. 

This doesn't mean some theaters are struggling.

Smaller, independent theaters, in particular, are more likely to face challenges.

But I'm highly skeptical that simply allowing theaters to serve alcohol will cure what ails these theaters. Some might be better off transitioning to a non-profit model, where support from the community sustains the theater. 

Under Cuomo's proposal, alcohol would be prohibited from movies rated G, and customers could only purchase one drink at a time. Those are reasonable restrictions. 

But I'd recommend requiring theaters to have a certain number of dry screenings for films rated PG-13 and R. The movie theater should be a space that welcomes people from all walks of life, and that includes people in recovery from substance-abuse problems. 

I enjoyed the beer I had at that movie theater in Portland, Oregon. 

But I don't view alcohol as a great boon to the movie-going experience, or a silver bullet that will save the movie industry. Which is doing just fine, and doesn't need saving. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's. 

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