April 4, 2018
Small Business Stories: City Lights Cinemas
In our “Small Business Stories” series, we hit the road to interview small business owners about their unique journeys. Each story provides inspiration and insights, while shining a spotlight on the passionate small business owners who are so critical to our economies and our communities.
When Michael Falter and his wife went on a vacation to coastal Oregon they didn’t realize it’d be a trip that would change their lives forever. While enjoying some time in scenic and charming Florence, a small town with a population around 8,000, they happened upon an abandoned movie theater that was in serious need of help. A lightbulb went off for Michael, he could see the potential of what this theater could represent for Florence. He had a background in film and a passion for the arts and community building but had never owned and operated a small business before. After many discussions, brainstorm sessions and some number crunching, Michael and his wife decided to take the plunge and buy the theater and work to restore it.
The following months were full of more hard work than either Michael or his wife expected. They even camped out in a tent inside the theater during some of the renovations. After uprooting their lives and moving to a new community to start a business from scratch, the gamble paid off when – one year after opening – City Lights Cinemas was turning a profit.
Their success is due in large part to the interesting business model they’ve adopted. When they opened, they introduced a membership program and allowed people to purchase an annual subscription to the theater. This stable income from membership dues allowed City Lights Cinemas to offer a diverse set of special events and live performance art opportunities streamed from around the world. The membership model helps them be more profitable, especially during the off season. Their members are invited to an annual reception which has proven to be a great way for Michael to gather ideas on things they’d like to see come to the theater.
Adding both popular movies, like the most-recent blockbuster hits, along with independent films, opera and theater productions, City Lights Cinemas gives the community a nice balance and helps people who wouldn’t otherwise see these independent productions an opportunity to branch out.
Always one to support local business, Michael also offers local wine and beer for patrons to purchase to enjoy with their films, because he wants the experience to mirror that of what they would do at home.
With a goal of bringing the community together and pushing out all of the divisive commentary that takes place in society, Michael opened City Lights Cinemas in Florence – and not only did it bring together the community, it also fulfilled a need they didn’t know existed.