Bill proposes alcohol sales for historic theaters

By Cameron Rasmusson
Reader Staff

The folks at the Panida Theater will likely be toasting state officials if a bill permitting beer and wine sales at historic theaters is signed into law.

The Panida Theater will be one of the historic theaters in Idaho to take advantage of the new law. Photo by Ben Olson.

The bill, which cleared the Idaho House of Representatives last Thursday, has advanced to the Senate for evaluation in committee. If signed into law, the bill will allow historic theaters to serve beer and wine without undergoing frustrating workarounds for movies and events. The bill requires theaters to be constructed prior to 1950 and be listed by the National Register of Historic Places to serve alcohol.

“Many of these historical theaters are struggling to stay afloat,” said Rep. Mat Erpelding, who introduced the legislation. “They have to pay for things like repairs, insurance and movie rentals. I’ve heard from theaters all over the state, and they are so excited to see that we are working to fix this problem. They are excited to see that we are giving them another tool to help keep these buildings operating. I hope that I can report back to them with good news.”

That’s music to Panida Theater Executive Director Patricia Walker’s ears. She has been frustrated for years by the need to generate catering permits for theater events. The upshot is an expensive, time-consuming process that enabled beer and wine sales at some events while leaving attendees of other events and movies out in the cold. Walker said she worked with Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, who relayed local concerns as the bill took shape.

“Sage Dixon knew this was a challenge for the Panida, because in order for us to do it, we had to get catering permits,” said Walker. “It’s been a huge financial burden for us.”

Under the bill’s terms, the Panida Theater would be able to sell beer and wine through its own legal authority, meaning that alcohol sales would be available at all Panida events without the need for expensive permits.

“It’s a huge process and a very arduous one that takes a long time to get through the paperwork,” said Walker.

Should the bill pass the Senate and be signed by Gov. Brad Little, it will also mean a bump in revenue for the owners or managers of historic theaters. That’s especially valuable in a time when theaters face more challenges than ever.

“The reality for historic theaters today is that it’s a tough world to be successful in. It seems that all of the costs have gone up: insurance, building repairs (and old theaters have plenty of those), movie rentals, advertising,” said Panida board member Susan Bates-Harbuck in a press release. “With Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, not as many people are realizing the enjoyment to be gotten from watching a movie with others. There you are in a beautiful setting, laughing with others, sharing the feelings that movies bring to us, and then talking about it on the way out into the lobby, maybe even to the coffee shop afterwards. The theaters need all the possible sources of income they can find.”

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