Empty Room? Bijou Theater Screens Movie For One Couple

I had a great customer service experience and I thought I would share it with you. My fiancee and I live in Mount Vernon, Iowa and like to frequent the old-school, single-screen movie theater in town called the Bijou. It’s a family run theater with cheap prices ($4/movie) and a great reputation as a family-friendly place. Before each of the showings the owner/manager greets the crowd, gives out prizes, and welcomes any first-timers in the audience.

That is nothing compared to the other night. We went to see “Balls of Fury” and found out we were the ONLY people who came to see it. Instead of canceling the show due to low attendance (or establishing a house minimum) the owner, Jerry, greeted us and talked about how he’ll run the shows for just one person. He figures that if someone has planned their day around a movie at the Bijou then the Bijou should fulfill that plan. Also, even though we were the only two people in the crowd he still gave us the prize (medium soft drink and popcorn)! We left smiling and it wasn’t because the movie was that good.

Ah, the heartland. Nothing rivals small-town person-to-person customer service. To us, family-owned businesses led by a gracious, good-natured owners were dreamt up by Madison Ave fluff-masters and bottled in 30-second segments; something rarely seen flourishing in the wild. Every business should strive to emulate Jerry’s exceptional consumer-centric philosophy.

Bijou Movie Theater

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  1. ceejeemcbeegee is not here says:

    Genuinely curious here… Why would a theater cancel a show for low attendance? They’ve already got the doors open and the min. wage teen on the clock: why not just run the flick and take the people’s money?

  2. Scazza says:

    @ceejeemcbeegee: Dunno about you, but I have had a show canceled on me twice before due to low attendance at 2 big theaters here in toronto. It happens. Try going to a show on a monday night to a crappy older movie and see if it gets canned.

  3. spookyjon says:

    I run a theater that, well, let’s say has several shows a week with only one or two people present. I’d never cancel a show for low attendance. That’s just ridiculous. If nobody’s shown up 15 minutes into the feature, I’ll shut the bulb off, but that’s about it.

  4. humorbot says:

    Seem like nice people running the theater. It’s a shame the only thing they had to show was Balls of Fury.

  5. ACruzer says:

    Holy Moly, I know that movie theather.. Funny enough to see it on this site of all places!

  6. KingPsyz says:

    Ah if only I had the venture capital to build more theaters that remember that seeing a movie used to be an event, or someone’s big plan for the night.

  7. asimpledarksquid says:

    Egads, I previously attended Cornell College in Mt. Vernon (it’s a super small town by the way) and I can’t believe that theatre popped up here!

    Perhaps it has different owners now, but when I lived there a couple years ago I tried to go to one movie that was canceled for low attendance, and another that was pre-empted by a private birthday event (even though that time-slot showed up in the newspaper’s movie schedule).

  8. homerjay says:

    Okay, which one of you vultures is going to find the negative in this? :)

    /sarcasm

  9. locode21 says:

    They have a nice little website set up here: [www.bijouonline.com]
    Maybe the publicity will bring them a few more customers!

  10. thewriteguy says:

    @HOMERJAY

    Well, it was “Balls of Fury”. No wonder there was no one watching, except for this couple. :)

  11. Jon Parker says:

    I had the exact same experience quite a few years ago at a theater in Oklahoma City. It’s great, but a little weird to sit there with your girlfriend knowing you’re the only two in the place.

  12. thewriteguy says:

    @JON PARKER

    I think it’s great to be sitting in the theater happening to be the only person in there. I’ve had way too many movie going experiences ruined by others being rude.

  13. reykjavik says:

    Some contracts force them to show the movie regardless of how many people are there. Although he may have been explaining the situation to his benefit, the reality is probably more along the lines of him contractually having to show it or risk getting fined or dropped by the film distribution company.

  14. Bloberry says:

    My kids and I have seen at least two movies this year at which we were the only viewers. It happens, even at the big theaters.

  15. louisb3 says:

    It’s obviously the victim’s fault for not showing their rece… er… never mind.

  16. srah says:

    I’ve been in this situation a few times before. It never even occurred to me that they wouldn’t show it just because I was the only one there.

  17. thewriteguy says:

    Will a theater still run a movie if nobody buys a ticket? I would imagine they might run the movie to an empty theater for the first 15 minutes in case a late comer shows up. But after 15 minutes and if there are still no shows, what’s the point?

  18. parad0x360 says:

    There used to be a small cinema around here as well. They never gave anything away for free but tickets were $4 all day everyday compared to $9+ at the bigger one down the road. They also had better popcorn $2 for a large compared to $3 for a small down the road.

    They ended up going out of business due to the overall better quality of Showcase Cinemas but…it was good while it lasted.

  19. Falconfire says:

    I saw Episode 1 with only 12 people in the entire theater include 8 from my family and our friends family.

    And this was right when it came out… like the 8pm showing of THE day it came out. I think no one realized this one theater was showing it or something as the later show was sold out.

  20. taylorich says:

    @Falconfire: Episode 1 of what?

  21. synergy says:

    @taylorich: Probably Star Wars.

  22. MikeB says:

    I have been to 2 movies where the only people in the theater have been the people in my party and neither movies have been canceled.

  23. synergy says:

    I glanced that this entry quickly where I get the Consumerist feed and thought you guys were posting about The Bijou at Crossroads.

  24. crackblind says:

    This actually happened to me at one of the big stadium seating megaplexes in NYC. I went to a 3 o’clock showing of Superbad during the week and I was the only one in the theater. In this case, I think the thing is so automated it probably would have cost them in the effort not to show the danged thing.

    Loved the movie though I think this one would have benefitted from a crowd.

  25. dfellars says:

    Hey ASIMPLEDARKSQUID,

    Also a Cornell Alum and remember the Bijou well, when it was open. To everyone else, remember that there are small struggling theaters like this across the country; and while they may not always have the best sound, picture, or amenities, like drive-ins… offer a movie going experience that is vastly different from the over-priced mega theater that is today’s norm.

    Support your independent theaters!

  26. Trai_Dep says:

    D -

    Also, more often than not, indie places are much more likely to serve real butter on their freshly popped corn. Not that yellow-tinted grease.

  27. Anonymous says:

    I’ve been at a movie in a Regal Cinemas theater where my then-girlfriend (now wife) and I were the only two people in the theater. I didn’t think The Hurricane was a bad movie… it was a mid-week matinee though.

  28. orange20854 says:

    I’m a little confused…I am in Boston, MA, but I can go to a midday showing of almost any movie during the week, and I will always be the only one in the theatre.

    Of course, the days of a $4 are long gone, but…at least I can say I’ve had private screenings before.

  29. timmus says:

    We stopped going to theaters about 6 years ago, as lately theaters gave gotten full of obnoxious people (talking, cell phones, etc). I don’t know whether the problem is shifts in etiquette in our society or management being more lax these days about enforcing their rules. But I’m thinking maybe it’s a feedback cycle from both, and that’s turned it into a new norm.

  30. MasonMacabre says:

    Wow. You can rent the entire theater for fifty bucks. That would be one hell of a party or a really nice date.

  31. GiselleBeardchen says:

    I don’t think the “Balls of Fury” that I saw played in Mt Vernon, IA.

    By the way if you go to a double feature at this “theater” can you get your transmission rebuilt while you watch the movies?

  32. homerjay says:

    My favorite line on their website:

    “we have also had to unexpectedly purchase a new projector lamp”

    Thats like saying “We were forced to incur the unexpected cost of plowing our parking lot after it snowed”

    How adorable.

  33. shepd says:

    Theatres cancel for low attendance? I’ve been in theatres several times where it’s either just myself, or me and a few friends. This is in several different theatres, from ON, Canada all the way to Barrow-in-Furness, UK. Weird… I just go to unpopular theatres at odd times to avoid the crazies. :-D Sadly, three of them I’ve been to have already closed down.

    I feel sort of decadent staying, considering the electricity used to power the bulb costs more than my ticket…

  34. etinterrapax says:

    My husband and I were the only two people at the late show of the Spiderman movie last summer in Worcester. It was a big chain theater. Honestly, the best movie theater experience of my life, and not just because we’d managed to find a babysitter for the weekend.

  35. remthewanderer says:

    The Broadway theater in Pitman NJ did the same thing for me back in the day. I was on a first date with a girl and we wanted to go see Frequency. I love the Broadway theater because it has a classic from the vaudeville era. It almost closed down a few years ago but it is back up and running better than ever.

    [www.thebroadwaytheatre.org]

    Now it sustains it self with live comedy and plays but it still mixes in movies from time to time. Long live indie movie houses!

  36. Anonymous says:

    Those projector lamps can cost upwards of $500 each! So kudos to the Bijou for running the movie regardless of attendence!

  37. vex says:

    I’ve been to a few early morning matinées when we were the only ones there, and they never canceled it.

  38. ajn007 says:

    I work at a theater that regularly cancels shows with low attendance. But this will only happen if they can fill that theater with overflow from another, more popular movie. Otherwise they will let the low attendance film play.

  39. faust1200 says:

    @homerjay: I like on the movie schedule screen you can click on a link that says “What the movie is about.” I think that’s how I would have worded it in grade school.

  40. cde says:

    @homerjay: I think that means the bulb burned out before its expected hours of use.

  41. FLConsumer says:

    @trai_dep: If you’re wondering, the “movie theater butter” is just diacetyl + yellow food coloring + vegetable oil.

    I *MUCH* prefer the independent movie theaters. They’re usually older theaters and don’t have the latest & greatest technology, but this also means that they don’t seem to have the teenagers stinking up the place, cell phones ringing constantly throughout the movie, clean floors, and always better quality food at cheaper prices. The independent theaters I visit have full menus of real food (including beer & wine). They’re also willing to show movies that the big theaters won’t show, most recently Death at a Funeral. Great movie, but the corporate mega-theaters wouldn’t show it here. Also, it’s these smaller theaters that keep Rocky Horror Picture Show going.

  42. Heh. I’m a Cornell alum as well and lived in Mt. Vernon until this summer, and I have many fond memories of the Bijou. I’ve seen almost-empty showings there as well as packed houses, but it’s always a great experience due to Jerry and his wife’s friendliness and enthusiasm. If the theater you usually go to is a big corporate multiplex, do yourself a favor and stop in Mount Vernon sometime, or find a tiny family-owned cinema in your own community to patronize. The difference is incredible.

    Oh, and the Mt. Vernon Bijou only serves real butter on its popcorn–none of that petroleum-based crap.

  43. Anonymous says:

    A few years ago I went to a Tuesday matinée showing of a Kevin Smith movie and was the only person in one of the big AMC theaters. About 10 minutes after the movie was scheduled to start I went out and advised the manager that I had purchased a ticket for the show. He didn’t say anything other than “sorry about that” and 5 minutes later the movie was running. Truly it was one of the weirdest movie going experiences of my life. It’s surprising how much of the theater experience is instinctively influenced by the reaction of a larger crowd around you. I found myself feeling awkward when I felt like laughing at a joke out loud.

  44. markedward says:

    My girlfriend and I have gone to at least four movie-showings in which we were the only people for the showing (two showing were at one theater, one of either of the other two were at different theaters). I’ve never heard of a movie theater not-running an entire movie simply because no one bought tickets for it. Who knows if fifteen people might show up ten minutes late to a movie that has already started and thus far had no viewers for that showing? It happens.

  45. laddibugg says:

    On the website, it says that Jerry’s wife is the one the owns the place, and Jerry just ‘helps out’….Such a cute place….and $50 to rent it? Wow…and you can have cake and ice cream at your party, but only if you help clean up! How quaint!

  46. 1964F100 says:

    The way movie theatre economics work, a good part of the ticket price goes towards the lease of the movie, whether 35mm or digital. Most of a theatre’s operational costs, including the aforementioned $500 lamp, is covered through concession sales. Considering the Bijou gave the couple free concessions, they really went beyond the call of duty.

    Speaking of projector lamps, 35mm and digital cinema projectors use xenon arc lamps which do not “burn out” in the conventional sense and require replacement by trained personnel. These highly-pressurized lamps are warranted for about 2000-2400 hours for a common 2000-watt size down to as little as 500 hours for the highest-output lamps. Running these lamps more than 25% beyond warranty is strictly at the theatre’s risk as they can explode from excessive use, damaging the lamphouse and ruining the show.

  47. Chicago7 says:

    I don’t think this is just “small-town” customer service.

    I went to see “The Kids are Alright”, The Who movie in Chicago and I was there with only one other person.

    As the movie started, we both yelled “Crank it up!” and the movie guy cranked the sound up to the maximum (up to 11!!!). It was awesome!

  48. micahd says:

    There’s a theatre in Elizabethtown, KY (nothing like the movie, BTW) that is still locally owned. They’re prices are closer to the big boys but there’s this older woman who still tears the ticked and tells you what theatre your movie is in. She’s always smiling and she’s probably watched a lot of people in town grow up from “Land Before Time” to “Saw”. I love that theatre because it’s not a big corporate chain and the people there actually like their jobs.

  49. MadMolecule says:

    I went with two friends (one of whom is now my wife) to see the first Lord of the Rings movie, and we were the only three people in there. This was at a big multistate chain, but they played it anyway. It was pretty awesome.

    Come to think of it, when I was an undergrad at a small university in Georgia, I had a French class one semester that only had two people in it: me and a good friend of mine. I’m sure they could have cancelled it, but the professor knew us and liked us, so she taught us anyway. That was a great semester.

  50. nlatimer says:

    One time my college planned an event to show National Lampoons Christmas Vacation in Decemeber a couple weeks before the break. Free snacks and all that jazz.

    I was the only person to show up for the movie, with the occasional person checking it out and taking some of the snacks. That eggnog was pretty good.

    The thing that gets me is that my parents and I paid to see it in a theatre just the previous year, and it was a packed house.

  51. stre says:

    When I was an underclassman at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, we had a similar place: University Square Theater. $3.00 Movies (only 4 or 5 years ago!), beer and concession stand food, and a small screen set up for just this possibility. I saw Warr of the Worlds in that theater while reclining in a knock-off Lazy Boy. Good Times. Makes me want to stop by Bijou Theaters next time I’m driving through Mt. Vernon (which, coincidentally enough, I do on occasion).

  52. technotica says:

    I just love hearing things about my home state. The ‘quaint’ remarks are a little weird though. I’m not sure about the rest of the country, but this theater is not the exception in Iowa. There are several small cinemas all throughout the state that are well staffed, cheap ($1 a seat), and some are even run by volunteer staff. The one in Vinton, Iowa comes to mind. If you don’t mind waiting a few weeks for the latest and greatest movie they are a real bargain.

  53. CapitalC says:

    For those who have knocked “Balls of Fury”, obviously it’s because you haven’t seen this most excellent movie.

  54. Anonymous says:

    How cool to see this theater pop up on your site. I lived in Mt. Vernon for a couple years and lived in Cedar Rapids for 30 years and know the town well. I’ve watched a few movies there when it was known as The Odeum and also after the change of hands. It’s always been a friendly place and I’m glad to see that’s still true. When I move back to Iowa next year (I’m in Portland, OR now) I’ll have go to Mt. Vernon to watch a movie and grab some of the best pizza in the world just down the street at Pizza Palace. :D

  55. Bunnymuffin says:

    The Rose Theater in Port Townsend Washington not only has real butter, but a full “flavor” bar where you can spice your popcorn with lemon pepper, chili powder or even nutritional yeast. The owner Rocky used to hand deliver a large fresh bag of popcorn whenever he came to pay his advertising bill. I miss small town theaters.