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Orinda movie theater cuts back showings as power bills climb

Iconic Orinda movie theater goes dark to keep lights on
Iconic Orinda movie theater goes dark to keep lights on 03:10

ORINDA -- Skyrocketing PG&E bills are giving many of us quite a scare every month as we try to heat up our homes and keep the lights on.

Businesses are feeling the pinch as well. In Orinda, one movie theater is closing the curtains two days a week to offset rising utility costs.

Derek Zemrak's love for movies blossomed at a young age. He tried a little acting, directing and producing but now he's the owner of the Orinda Theatre.

"One day I said 'You know what? One day I'm going to own a movie theater,"  Zemrak recalled.

Owning a theater hasn't been about glitz and glamour. It's been tough to keep the big screen turned on. First it was the pandemic, now it's the PG&E bills.

"It was actually $4,200 to $4,800 and then it jumped up to last month to $6,200 plus," Zemrak said.

That averages out to $240 a day to pay for electricity and gas. Zemrak had one word to describe the shock of seeing the latest PG&E bill: "Wow!"

So Zemrak is trying out several things to help keep his business open.

"If your income isn't going up, you have to reduce your expenses to stay alive," he said.

Now he is closing the theater Mondays and Tuesdays when they typically see fewer that 30 customers per day.

"A lot of people don't know the (movie) studio takes anywhere from 60 percent to 67 percent of your ticket sales," Zemrak said. "That means, to cover the $240, it would take 47 moviegoers to cover the bill."

Just like many of us are doing at home, Zemrak is turning off the lights to see where he can save a few bucks.

"Haven't been turning on the beautiful marquee because we really want to see what we can do in terms of reducing electricity costs to see what our bill is ... to see what really works and what doesn't," he said.

The dark marquee is something locals are having a hard time getting used to.

"It's kind of sad because it does more than just than advertise the theater," Andrew Smoth said. "It's a sign post of the town."

Derek has also added a very popular tiki bar that's connected to the theater to generate more revenue. He's trying everything he can to keep the doors open and says he's been overwhelmed by the community support. Whether theaters like his stay open, ultimately, depends on moviegoers.

"If you want them to stay alive and stay open, you have to frequent them," Zemrak said. "You have to go to the movies. You have to help at the concession stands if you want this art to stay."

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