Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Regal Cinemas Bethesda to close December 15, rest of Apex Building to close the 19th

Regal Cinemas Bethesda 10 movie theater will close forever on Thursday, December 15, according to theater staff. The rest of the Apex Building it anchors will close on December 19, according to The Brown Bag, another tenant closing as the building at 7272 Wisconsin Avenue awaits demolition.

If you grew up here in the 1990s before Federal Realty's Bethesda Row became the center of town, you'll recall that the plaza outside the Regal Cinemas (though it will forever be referred to as "UA" by most of us, as it was United Artists Bethesda for many years prior) was the place to be on weekend nights. It was absolutely packed. Many dined at the long-gone Uno's in the Apex, where even celebrities like Mike Tyson could be found before or after a film.

To have a movie theater in downtown Bethesda was a novelty as the 80s turned into the 90s. The legendary KB Baronet and KB Baronet West theaters had been demolished to make way for the Bethesda Metro Center and associated redevelopment. The latter theater closed in 1988.

For its time, UA was pretty modern, though it was eventually remodeled with improved seating around the turn of the century. A tuxedoed manager ran a tight ship in the 1990s; when he disappeared, the customer experience began to severely decline in the 21st century. The air conditioning regularly would fail during hot summer nights. Theaters were not cleaned as thoroughly between films. Ushers vanished altogether, leaving moviegoers at the mercy of teenage hoodlums. Patrons had to try to settle disputes themselves. Operators in the projection room might turn your movie up to a deafening level it was never meant to be played at, and just leave the room and let it run. Ditto if something was wrong with the picture, such as the whole picture wavering throughout the movie (Man of Steel) or an endless series of lines rising from the bottom of the picture to the top until the end credits (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy).

And that was if your movie wasn't prematurely ended by a false fire alarm.

Suffering veterans of these experiences began to find their wallets filled with the low-tech "tickets for another movie of your choice" handed out by the manager if you complained - and by 2006, there wasn't anybody to complain to after a late movie let out. Just the janitors vacuuming the floor. Nice.

New management seemed to improve customer service and cleanliness (at least at earlier screenings) in recent years. But even those of us with nostalgia for UA will have to admit the theater is now out of date, and simply does not provide the experience found at IMAX, ArcLight and iPic.

What it continued to provide, however, was convenience and a magnet to bring people to the restaurants and shops in downtown Bethesda. One study showed a cineplex brings 20,000 more people to a downtown on weekends than would ordinarily be there. Carr Properties, which is redeveloping the Apex Building into a promising mixed-use development with three high-rise towers, has said it is inviting Regal Cinemas to be an anchor tenant. Keep your fingers crossed, as the cineplex is critical to the downtown economy, and particularly to restaurants who rely on the "dinner-and-a-movie" crowd on weekends.

Here are some final scenes from the Brown Bag:



32 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yay. More construction. Woo. Fricking. Hoo.

Anonymous said...

The construction in North North Bethesda is amazing. Going to be some very high density living.

Anonymous said...

South Bethesda > North Bethesda all day! Fuck you @630AM!

Anonymous said...

I agree with 706AM. South Bethesda has the Healthy Back store which is a great amenity.

Anonymous said...

The Regal is the oldest theater in lower Montgomery County, but with none of the charm of the Uptown or the Avalon.

Anonymous said...

Big negative for residents in the downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.

We now have to go into DC or drive further north to see general interest movies.

Anonymous said...

Great memories of UA Bethesda!

I enjoyed reading this article. Robert has personal perspective on this report!

Anonymous said...

Ah so many venereal diseases have been spread in those dark theaters. Good times.

Elias Tsakiris said...

Will the Regal Cinema come back during the project?

Anonymous said...

Any idea if Brown Bag will relocate somewhere in the area? Always a healthy stream of people in there.

Anonymous said...

Took Steve Hull a few hours to plagiarise this article, with less information to boot. :)

Anonymous said...

For the past several months, Dyer has been claiming that the closure of the Regal would be a huge loss. Now that it's actually closing, he utterly trashes the place. I guess he realizes that he won't get any more freebies from them.

And I love his line about "teenage hoodlums". He sounds like an old coot.

Anonymous said...

"Brown Bag"?

I don't know about that, but I remember The Plain Brown Wrapper, across the street from the old convention center.

Anonymous said...

Photo Credits: The Night Stalker.

I remember Giffords said...

Great memories at UA Bethesda!
Nice shout out to KB Baronet. Old Bethesda! I barely recognize it.

Anonymous said...

We can't have nice things..
why leave us Regal?!

Robert Dyer said...

It is a huge loss, as I mentioned in the last paragraph. But the developer has claimed a space for a new Regal Theater is part of the design for the replacement building. If that falls through, the impact on downtown restaurants will be devastating. Nothing has changed about that.

Robert Dyer said...

10:32: They had an Obi Wan Kenobi moment again, and just sensed that Regal and the Brown Bag were closing via ESP.

Anonymous said...

7:59 I agree, great memories of the old days at UA!!

Anonymous said...

The Biggest Problem With The Theatre Was When Regal Cinemas Took Over, The Company Seemed to Want to Invest As Little Money As Possible Into The Theatre. The Proof Is Simple to See. Staffing Levels That Were Next to Nothing, Outdated Equipment Such As The Popcorn Popper, The Cash Registers And Of Course Who Could Forget That HVAC System That Never Worked, In The Winter, Auditoriums That Were Colder Than The Temperatures Outside & In The Summer They Were Like Saunas. But Hey Bethesda Residents Still Have Landmark Bethesda to Visit. Plus There Is A Theater At Montgomery Mall, One At White Flint, Regal Rockville & Regal Silver Spring

Robert Dyer said...

9:57: All true. The other theaters won't help downtown restaurants though, because Landmark doesn't show mainstream blockbusters, and the others are far away and have their own restaurants nearby. Also, Regal Rockville and Silver Spring are both in need of renovation or replacement. There were holes in my seat last time at Rockville. Disgusting.

Jonathan G. said...

The theaters were never that great when compared to what the alternates provide - assigned seating, 7.1 surround sound, Dolby Atmos ...and those bright as sin exit signs right next to the screens (ugh) I hope a cinema can and does get implemented into the new building with better state of the art amenities

Anonymous said...

Who needs "mainstram blockbusters", anyway? They're all just re-makes and sequels anymore. Just wait a few months and watch on one's 70" screen at home with some microwave popcorn and some candy from CVS. Instead of in the dark, surrounded by talking, texting and groping strangers. And save $15-30 per person.

Robert Dyer said...

7:55: I think you make a valid point, but until Americans stop buying tickets to movies in mass numbers, we still have to compete for the same dollars that all the towns around us would be attracting with their cineplexes. If the deal with Regal falls through, the County Council and Planning Board will be to blame, as they chose not to require a replacement theater. Carr Properties has shown some good sense in understanding the value of having a theater anchor to this point.

Anonymous said...

"One study showed a cineplex brings 20,000 more people to a downtown on weekends than would ordinarily be there."

You have cited this statistic repeatedly on this site, and it remains as dubious today as when first cited by you. The number comes from a developers claim for a project in Towsen, MD -- and was absurd in that case as well. The development was sold two years after opening at a $45 million loss. See the earlier discussion comments: http://robertdyer.blogspot.com/2016/06/public-meeting-set-for-apex-building.html

Anonymous said...

Think of it: every other downtown in MoCo has a mainstream blockbuster movie theater other than Bethesda (after regal closes).

Wheaton, Rockville, Silver Spring, even the Kentlands have theaters.

Bethesda residents continue to suffer from not having elected officials who actually live in the community.
Roger Berliner can just take the elevator from his Rockville Pike penthouse directly to iPic. What about Bethesda residents?

Robert Dyer said...

10:12: Only the MoCo cartel would compare Towson with Bethesda. Richest town in America has a lot more people and spending money.

Anonymous said...

And the point went right over Dyer's head.

Anonymous said...

I guess Landmark doesn't give freebies to certain mooching local bloggers.

Anonymous said...

@ 3:57 PM - Bethesda is a City, not a Town.

Second, the comparison to Towson came from you: "An economic development study prepared for Towson, MD showed that a multi-screen movie theater like Regal draws 20,000 additional people to a downtown area on weekends who wouldn't ordinarily show up." http://robertdyer.blogspot.com/2016/06/public-meeting-set-for-apex-building.html

Third, the 20,000 figure is ridiculous on its face. The theater would have to sell over one million tickets per year.

Robert Dyer said...

4:27: No, it didn't, moron.

6:34: I don't get freebies at Regal, either, idiot. Back to the facts - Landmark doesn't show mainstream releases.

3:58: And how many tickets does Regal Bethesda 10 sell per year? Are you a theater industry insider? What are your credentials?

Anonymous said...

@ 2:17 - Your comment mentions the iPic - it has been flagged for immediate deletion.