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Wednesday, Jul 6, 2022

Amazing L.A. Sequel – Return of the Drive-In

Some movie theaters are installing 3-D projectors or high-tech sound systems. But an independent movie theater operator in Paramount is investing in older technologies: the drive-in.

Modern Development Co. of Newport Beach announced last week it is reopening a drive-in theater on property that also hosts the Paramount Swap Meet. The drive-in is expected to open in the early spring, reviving a previous two-screen drive-in at the same site that was closed two decades ago.

Beau Bianchi, a general partner at Modern Development, said the new version will be a draw for budget-minded families.

“People are itching for affordable family entertainment,” Bianchi said. “With the price we can offer on the drive-in side we’re going to get families involved.”

The theater will show double features seven nights a week after swap meet vendors pack up their wares.

The plan is to show one new feature film and one second-run feature film that has been in theaters for a few weeks. Tickets for adults will cost $9, while kids’ tickets will cost $3 and under-5 admission is free.

Bianchi said the theater will be able to offer cheaper entrance than many indoor theaters since movie exhibitors typically get a larger share of box office receipts from second-run films than brand new movies. Also, outdoor theaters have fewer overhead expenses, since there is less need for lighting and ushers, for example.

Modern Development also owns an 11-screen multiplex theater next to the swap meet parking lot. Bianchi said he thinks the drive-in will draw a more family-oriented crowd than the multiplex, which is frequented by young people.

The site was once a carrot field. Bianchi’s grandfather, Joseph Bianchi built one of the first two-screen drive-in theaters in Southern California there in 1947. The swap meet opened in 1955. The family has since expanded the site to 46 acres from 26 acres by buying land from two industrial firms. But movie showings were phased out in 1992 as multiplexes began offering state-of-the-art surround sound and other technologies that crowded-out single screen operators and drive-ins. The family opened the indoor movie theater in 1998.

But Bianchi said the pendulum has swung back for drive-ins, however, since they can now offer improved visual and audio experience – and competition has dropped, since many have gone out of business.

Modern Development is now installing two 75-foot movie screens with digital projectors plus audio that will synch with FM car radios. The firm is also considering modern touches, such as a mobile app that will allow moviegoers to order food from their phones.

Bianchi estimated the investment to get the theater back up and running will be $1 million.

Past Paper

The Los Angeles Times is diversifying.

With its print publishing business in upheaval, the paper is exploring new ways of generating revenue. Last week, the Los Angeles Times Media Group launched an e-commerce site called District West.

The site is an online marketplace focused on clothing and broken down by neighborhoods. For example, shoppers can go to District West to browse through merchandise at boutiques in Silver Lake or Culver City.

Jennifer Collins, vice president of revenue development at the Times, said the new site hopes to capitalize on a flourishing clothing design industry.

“We took a look at what was happening right around our building and said there is a tremendous opportunity,” she said.

The District West site makes money by taking an undisclosed portion of purchase revenue. Collins said the site will also sell sponsored posts and other advertisements once it has built up some substantial Web traffic.

Features include “street style,” which profiles the fashion of pedestrians out on the town. District West’s staff is separate from the Times’ website and print staff.

The newspaper is making other attempts at digital innovation. The Times has also worked with L.A. accelerator Start Engine on other digital initiatives as part of a larger effort the Times is calling Project Springboard.

With the e-commerce site, Collins said part of the idea is to offer locally produced clothing and other handmade goods from emerging designers. Most of the items cost less than $200.

If all goes well, she said the Times would look to expand the site to Orange County retailers, and possibly open a warehouse to handle shipping in-house.

The Times is joining a growing list of fashion-oriented L.A. e-commerce startups, including JustFab and NastyGal, and Collins said the move makes sense for the Times in part because it already has a well-established distribution footprint for newspapers that could be used for other items, too.

“I think where we have an advantage is that we understand the Southern California area,” she said. “We have a robust distribution network with newspapers. We’re looking to potentially piggyback on that.”

Staff reporter Jonathan Polakoff can be reached at jpolakoff@labusinessjournal.com or (323) 549-5225, ext. 226.

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