The owner of Whitefish’s Mountain Cinema 4 is closing the four-screen theater due to a combination of declining revenue, rising rent and the uncertainty surrounding the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Like most movie theaters in Montana, the Mountain Cinema had been closed since March. While Gov. Steve Bullock announced earlier this month that theaters could reopen as long as they follow social distancing guidelines, Becky Dupuis, whose family’s company, Polson Theatres Inc., has owned the Whitefish movie house since the 1980s, said Mountain Cinema would not be among those reopening. Even before the pandemic, the Whitefish cinema had been struggling to turn a profit, Dupuis said. In fact, of Polson Theatres’ nearly dozen venues (the company also has theaters in Polson, Cut Bank, Dillon, Glasgow, Havre, Lewistown, Ronan, Wolf Point and Salmon, Idaho), Whitefish has always been one of the worst performers financially.
That’s because as studios increase the fees they charge to show their films, movie theaters need to rely on concession sales to stay in the black. Of all of Polson Theatres’ locations, the Whitefish cinema is the one of the few located directly next to a grocery store (actually in the same building), so it’s easy for people looking to save a few bucks to go next door, buy their snacks and sneak them into the show. Unfortunately, that taste for frugality has a price, Dupuis said.
“We’ve been struggling in Whitefish for a long time and unfortunately the pandemic pushed us over the edge,” she said.
Dupuis said that her father purchased his first theater in 1971 and, in the ensuing decades, expanded the business across Montana. The family has been the sole owners of the Whitefish cinema since the mall opened in the early 1980s.
Since word started spreading around town that the Whitefish cinema was about to close, Dupuis said a number of interesting parties have approached her about buying the theater. However, time is of the essence. Dupuis said the family plans to take the screens, projection equipment, seats and more from the Whitefish theater to furnish its soon-to-be-expanded Polson theater. Currently, the theater there has just two screens, but at the end of the summer it will have six. If they were able to sell the Whitefish theater to a new owner, they would have to go elsewhere to find equipment for the Polson expansion, but Dupuis said her family would be OK with that.
“I’d really hate to see the theater close in Whitefish,” she said. “I just really hope we can figure something out because it just breaks my heart to close a theater.”