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By Mark Lisheron of the Journal Sentinel staff
(Reprinted from the 3/8/96 edition of The Journal Sentinel, without permission)
James Gudmundson tried 10 years ago to raise capitol to build the kind of multiplex theater that are driving his Scotsland Theatres, in Oconomowoc, to extinction.
Gudmundson and his wife, Eleanor, had always been progressive. The Scotsland facility boasted the first sound system in Wisconsin with Dolby, the once revolutionary and now standard noise-reduction system.
For a time, patrons of the couple's twin-screen theater relaxed in the exclusive comfort of rocking seats.
When it came time to compete with the corporations rushing to offer more movie choices in smaller theaters under one roof, however, the Gudmundsons could not get financing.
And so, with resignation rather than bitterness, Gudmundson will roll his last feature film, "Broken Arrow," at 7:15 p.m. Sunday. The Gudmundsons have nothing special planned for the night, but they plan to be at the exit to thank their customers, many of whom have sworn an undying allegiance since 1974.
"We have some dedicated customers," Gudmundson said. "Some people who won't go to any other theater. It's just that there aren't enough dedicated customers."
The Gudmundsons also did not have enough dedicated customers to keep open the Pix, a downtown Waukesha theater the couple has owned since 1977 and that has been closed for more than a month. The Pix is for sale and there is no hope of reopening it, Gudmundson said.
"An independent theater owner in a metropolitan area cannot fight the corporations," Gudmundson said. "It's about money."
For the moviegoing public, it's about choices. Ten years ago, movie theater owners began capitalizing on the advantages of giving customers more choices, Gudmundson said. Families could find variety in a single destination. Audiences turned away from the hot film of the moment would be likely to make another choice rather than waste a trip, he said.
Owners of multiplex chains could also exercise their clout to get choice films with promises of booking other smaller films, he said.
"I used to be able to book an exclusive picture," Gudmundson said. "I can't get an exclusive picture anymore."
Buffeted by the Capitol Cinemas 12 in Pewaukee and the Hillside Theater in Delafield, the Gudmundsons tried to compete on price, cutting ticket prices for its even shows to $5 from $6 a year ago. They were rewarded with a 50% drop in gross income during that time, he said.
Finally, when the Gudmundsons were unable to persuade their landlord, Edmund Baysari, former owner of Olympia Resort, to remodel one of the Scotsland theaters into three screening rooms, they allowed their lease to lapse.
For James Gudmundson, 65, and Eleanor Gudmundson, 60, getting out of the business for good is tantamount to retirement. Suddenly realizing their exit sounded morose, Gudmundson reminded himself how much he and his wife enjoyed what they had done.
"It's just the way things are today." Gudmundson said. "There's nothing we could do about it."
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