Thursday, March 15, 2012

Theater of the Absurd

I'm a man who actually doesn't mind going shopping at Target.

I know I'm in the minority. I know a trip to Target, for most men, is one that is commonly accompanied by kicking and screaming.

But I have an ulterior motive for treks to Target: popcorn and soda.

It's a hidden gem, I tell you.

At Target---at least the one near our house---you can get a decent size bag of popcorn and a medium-sized drink for $1.99.

Yep---one ninety-nine.

So while Mrs. Eno grabs a shopping cart and sets out to cross off her list, I make a beeline for the snack counter to grab my deal of the century.

For $2.11, after tax, I can munch on fresh popcorn and sip an icy cold drink, like a child, while my better half shops.

Oh, I'm not stodgy or protective. I absolutely offer my wife popcorn and pop throughout our shopping visit. So I'm sharing the wealth.

Popcorn and a pop for $2.11.

I bring this up because a similar combo, at your neighborhood movie house, would set you back about $8-10. Easy.

The Free Press ran a story yesterday about why concessions are so expensive at movie theaters. A theater owner, Jon Goldstein (Maple Theater, Bloomfield Hills), offered up a relatively unsurprising "explanation."

It's simply an example, Goldstein says, of theaters passing costs onto the consumer.

Good, old fashioned American capitalism, in other words.

He also blamed us messy moviegoers.

“The life of a popcorn seed would actually be very interesting, from getting popped to putting into a bucket, to where it ends up at the end of the day, whether it’s in someone’s stomach or smushed into the seats or the floors of the theater,” said Goldstein in the Freep story.



“If people would spill that popcorn in the living room as they do in the movie theater, I think they would understand the labor costs that go into running a concession stand in a busy movie theater.”

I have spilled my share of popcorn in the living room. But cleaning it up certainly wouldn't run me a fortune in paid labor.

Even extrapolated to the rows of seats in a theater, I can't imagine how sweeping popcorn from the floor equals $10 for a bucket and a soda.

But at least Goldstein spoke on the subject, which has mostly been dealt with with rolling eyes from consumers and little explanation from theater owners.

Yet Goldstein's comments about why concession prices are so high smack of greed and gouging---by movie studios. The price of a ticket---also high---apparently goes mostly back into the studios' coffers, Goldstein says.

“If we can’t keep a majority of that ticket price there’s only one way that we can pay for everything……and that’s at the concession stand,” Goldstein said.

Understood. A theater guy's gotta make a living.

Just think how high the prices would be if the employees were paid more than $7 an hour.

The above sentence isn't fact-based; I'm guessing. But I can't imagine that theater owners, already crying foul over having to raise concession prices to make a buck, are paying their employees---who are mainly teenagers---much more than peanuts.

I don't think Goldstein is a bad guy. I don't think theater owners, in general, are bad guys. But still, the prices seem awfully high, don't they?

Goldstein did say something that I respect.

“If you treat your customers like they are not smart, then they are going to do things that are not smart, but if you treat customers with respect and with honesty then you usually get that in return as well.”

I like that philosophy.

But there's also this, which will continue to happen until the end of days.

“If you have to make money, that’s fine,” said Amber Hunt, 29, of Ferndale. “But more people are just going to be sneaking in candy like me.”

Now, if they start screening movies at Target, you think the $1.99 popcorn/pop special will go away?

In a Hollywood minute.

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