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Seattle Times news librarian Gene Balk crunches the numbers

June 20, 2013 at 10:51 AM

What really killed the Egyptian?

Egyptian Theater (Photo: Erika Schultz/The Seattle Times)

Egyptian Theatre (Photo: Erika Schultz/The Seattle Times)

Capitol Hill is getting used to bad news.

In the past year, a handful of cherished neighborhood institutions have left, or are preparing to leave: Bauhaus Coffee, B&O Espresso, the Canterbury, the Bus Stop—and now add the Egyptian Theatre to the casualty list.

Landmark Theatres, which has operated the Egyptian since 1989, announced this week that it would close the art-house cinema.

As Capitol Hill gentrifies, trendy new restaurants and bars are popping up on every corner.  But the funky, older establishments that give the neighborhood its character are vanishing, one by one.  As a commenter on the Seattle Times article about the Egyptian’s closure quipped: “Will the last place with personality on Capitol Hill please turn out the lights?”

So is gentrification to blame for the loss of the Egyptian?  Apparently not.  The old Masonic Hall that houses the cinema isn’t being redeveloped into some upscale mixed-use project like so much of Capitol Hill.  No, the truth may be even more difficult to swallow.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

A spokesperson for Landmark Theatres told The Seattle Times: “The Egyptian is a single-screen theater and single-screen theaters are tough to work from an economic standpoint.”

In other words, for as much as we say we love the Egyptian, we didn’t fill enough seats to keep it in business.

We’re actually watching more movies than ever–just not in the theaters.  Movie house attendance in Seattle has been, at best, flat.  Online viewing, on the other hand, has grown by 85 percent among city residents since 2011, according to market data firm Scarborough Research.

And as of this year, the number of Seattleites who download or stream movies has pulled even with the number who see movies in the theater, as the chart illustrates.

Overall, 29 percent of Seattleites say they’ve downloaded or streamed a movie in the past 30 days.  Nationally, it’s just 16 percent.

So did Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime kill the Egyptian?  The popularity of those services in Seattle is, most likely, cutting into the profits of all movie theaters.

But the Egyptian isn’t just another movie theater.  It offers a unique film-going experience that the internet cannot match.  Quirky, vintage, alternative–the Egyptian embodies the values of its Capitol Hill neighborhood.  That’s why there has been such an uproar over the news of its closure.

Almost everyone agrees that the Egyptian is special.  So why didn’t we go more when we had the chance?



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