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Garland Theater makeover includes new seats, menu with beer and wine

Garland Theater employee Crystal Bertholic carries menus in Bon Bon at the theater on Tuesday in the Garland District in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Garland Theater employee Crystal Bertholic carries menus in Bon Bon at the theater on Tuesday in the Garland District in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland)

The Garland Theater, recently listed on the state historic register, is getting a big makeover with new seats, a new menu, and beer and wine available to carry to your seat.

Owner Katherine Fritchie said she is trying to reinvent the popular neighborhood theater to keep her customers happy.

She has invested about $350,000 over the past year, including the purchase of 565 cushy red seats.

Fritchie recently got a new liquor license that allows moviegoers to drink beer and wine, but not cocktails, in the theater. Drink orders are filled at the Bon Bon bar, which is off the main lobby.

In addition, Fritchie has a new menu available at the snack bar that includes four types of hot dogs – including vegetarian – and olives, nachos, hummus, popcorn, and a cheese and fruit plate. She hopes to expand that menu in the future.

“People really seem to like it,” she said.

Fritchie has ordered plastic trays that attach to cup holders on the seats’ armrests to hold the food and drinks.

Over the years, the Garland has built a loyal following. The 1945 theater at 924 W. Garland Ave. became a discount movie house in 1988 and still offers $1 showings that often fill the seats, Fritchie said.

Cinemas around the country have seen a decline in ticket sales in recent years, likely because of expanding options for entertainment. In response, some theaters are experimenting with new concepts such as serving food and alcoholic beverages.

The Alamo Drafthouse, based in Austin, Texas, has built a successful business model with an expanded menu of food and drinks, Fritchie said.

Fritchie said she’s willing to invest to keep the theater alive.

“If we don’t take the risk, it goes down,” she said. “I think you have to recreate it every so often to keep interest viable.”

Fritchie’s latest moves follow the opening of the Bon Bon in 2010. It specializes in classic cocktails and is overseen by operations director Dena Carr.

The Garland has long been a trendsetter. When it opened in 1945, its snack bar was said to be an innovation imported directly from Hollywood.

Fritchie has restored and maintained the historic features of the Garland, which has been recommended for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. It won a state register listing earlier this fall.

Its architecture is from the streamline modern style with art deco components on the ornate entry façade. The 48-foot tower marquee is a landmark on the North Side.

The Garland should be able to take advantage of tax incentives granted to listed properties, Fritchie said. She is separately seeking a listing on the Spokane Historic Register.

The changes at the Garland, Fritchie said, “are something we have talked about for at least five years.”

The next $1 movie is “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” on Tuesday at 7 p.m.