Saving Central Cinema

Home » Saving Central Cinema

Recessions are tough times to run a business, but they can also unleash entrepreneurial energy and creativity.  The worst thing that government can do – all of the time, but especially in hard economic times – is shut down new ideas because ‘we don’t do things that way’.  Yet, that threat is currently hanging over the head of Central Cinema, an all-ages, family-friendly dinner theater at 21st and Union.  The City Council, Mayor, and City Attorney have all signed on to a letter petitioning the State Liquor Control Board to refrain from taking enforcement action – but we don’t know what the result will be.

Central Cinema was actually founded in 2005, and it has become a wonderful asset to the community.  Now, unfortunately, it has to petition the Liquor Control Board to amend WAC 314-02-027, relating to spirits, beer, and wine in dinner theater venues.  Here’s what City officials wrote in support of Central Cinema:

“Until recently, the area…  (around 21st and Union)… – and particularly the nearby intersection of 23rd and Union – was known as an open-air drug market, and experienced very high levels of crime.  The City’s “Safer Union” project, with help from many local business owners and residents, has worked to create a greater sense of safety and community in the Union Street corridor.  Central Cinema has been a tremendous asset in these efforts, serving as a family-friendly destination that draws people to the neighborhood and brings neighbors together.  The Cinema offers casual dining together with films that are often family-oriented – including a weekly “cartoon happy hour” and “sing-along” movies – and serves as host for a diverse range of other community events.

Although it has operated for over six years without incident, the Central Cinema was recently notified that it may be in violation of WAC 314-02-027.  As adopted in 2010, this rule authorizes a restaurant/ spirits beer and wine license for “a cinema with a dinner theater venue,” but only if minors are prohibited “in the individual theater rooms that allow alcohol service and consumption.”  Because Central Cinema operates with a single dining and theater room, strict enforcement of this rule would require the Cinema to substantially change its business model, and likely force it to close. For all of us who are interested in seeing the Union Corridor thrive as a diverse, safe, and family friendly community, this would be a terrible outcome.

While we can appreciate the rationale for WAC 314-02-027 as applied to a typical cinema venue, it makes much less sense when applied to an establishment like the Central Cinema.  The Central Cinema has lighted booths, which meet the restaurant lighting requirements of WAC 314-11-055, and fully allow for checking of identification and enforcement of all liquor rules.  Food and drinks are delivered by table servers, who are constantly working and monitoring the room.  The Central Cinema thus poses no more threat to minors than many other restaurants and dinner theaters where families are allowed.  In fact, we understand that if the Central Cinema were offering live music, or large TV screens, or no entertainment, instead of movies, it would be fully lawful; it is simply the presence of the movie screen that invokes the prohibition of WAC 314-02-027.  We do not imagine this was the intended purpose of the rule.

We respectfully request that the Board initiate a rule-making to consider amendments to WAC 314-02-027, and stay further enforcement of the rule while the rule-making is pending.  It seems likely that with minor modifications, the rule could serve its intended purpose and still allow family-oriented establishments such as the Central Cinema to operate.   We appreciate your attention to this matter.”