Originally published on Albany Patch.
Two theaters stand like watchful twins at both ends of Solano Avenue, but only one plans to keep its projector going in 2011.
The Oaks Theater, on the Berkeley end of the avenue, was resurrected by Merriment Media nine months ago with the goal of bringing in a double whammy of first-run movies and foreign films. It stopped operations just before Christmas due to financial problems, according to news website Berkeleyside.
Albany business owners said last week that the theater’s closing may not have much of an economic impact on their stores, but the closure adds to a growing number of vacancies and shuttered shops, particularly across the city’s border in Berkeley.
Monier Attar, owner of Zand’s Pastries and Market, said she is concerned about how the closing will affect Solano as a whole. In the 10 years her shop has been on Solano, she said, she hasn’t seen the street so quiet.
“It makes Solano dead at night,” Attar said. “That’s not good. That doesn’t make me happy.”
Although the theater’s closing didn’t come as a surprise to many, Solano Avenue Association Director Allen Cain said it was disappointing. He said the theater faced issues from the onset, such as a lack of consistency in scheduling special movie nights, and choosing to host films already available as rentals.
“People really wish the new owners made more of a significant effort at making a go at (running the theater),” Cain said.
Judging what kind of impact the theater’s closing will have is difficult, Cain said, but overall there is a strong business environment on the Albany side of the avenue, with four new businesses opening up in recent months.
“Albany is perfectly stable,” Cain said.
Albany has been able to weather the combined storm of an uncertain economy and rising rents with a mixture of incentives that have made it more attractive for business: free parking, no street meters, a more business-friendly City Council than Berkeley, and mostly local landlords who are reasonable with rent, he said.
The issue with the Oaks Theater closing is not so much what kind of impact it will have on Albany businesses on the avenue, some said, but rather what the street’s future will be if vacancies continue at the present rate.
Cain expressed grave concern over the number of businesses that have recently closed, or plan to in coming weeks: 6 Degrees on Solano, Front Row Video, Sarber’s Camera, the theater, and three other planned vacancies he couldn’t talk about. As with the theater, exorbitant rent prices on the Berkeley side of the avenue have contributed to an increasing number of vacancies, he said.
“The landlords are killing the golden goose,” Cain said, of Berkeley property owners. “Vacancies kill business districts.”
Winkie Campbell-Notar, executive director for the Albany Chamber of Commerce, said “it’s a bit of a stretch” to say businesses on the Albany end of Solano would be hurt by the closing, considering that the Albany Twin Theater is doing fine as far as she knows.
Could this be a boon for the Albany theater? Thor Klippert, assistant manager of the theater, said he wasn’t sure. He said both theaters had their own clientele and played different movies, so it’s hard to compare the two. He said he knew the Oaks had problems when he saw the holiday movie line-up.
“When they had Conviction as their Christmas movie,” Klippert said, “I knew they were in trouble. It’s sad to see them close.”