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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

A new chapter for the Garland Theater: New owners will keep playing second-run films, but add events, themed screenings

Spokane’s historic North Side movie theater will soon enter a new act.

Katherine Fritchie, who bought the Garland Theater in 1999, sold it and other adjacent properties to Jordan Tampien, a Spokane real estate developer, on Thursday.

The $1.8 million deal included the sale of the theater property and business, and adjacent properties, including the buildings that house Vintage Print & Neon and Mark’s Guitar Shop, Fritchie said. Owners of the print and music shops will retain possession of their businesses.

Fritchie said she will continue to operate the cinema through the end of the year.

Tampien intends to operate the theater next year, but because of a bumpy transition, he estimates it will be reopened eight weeks after the start of the year. The delay is largely a result of the time it will take to acquire new business licenses for the theater and Bon Bon, a small bar located inside.

“We didn’t buy any of the existing business licenses, so everything has to be brand new,” he said. “Because of that, Katherine is going to ride it out to the end of the month, honoring her contracts.”

Tampien intends to offer refunds for the annual memberships that were purchased for 2024.

But Tampien will not be operating the business. He will own the property and lease it to Chris Bovey and Tyler Arnold, who will own and operate the business, he said.

Though the lease agreement has yet to occur, Tampien has signed a letter of intent to lease the property. Arnold and Bovey’s lease will be between 10 and 20 years.

The two have experience in this realm. Bovey owns Vintage Print & Neon, and Arnold is a part-owner of the Jedi Alliance, a comic book emporium, toy museum, arcade and event space.

Bovey, a long-time Spokane artist, said the two attempted to purchase the Garland District property for the last nine months, but due to disagreements between them and Fritchie, the deal fizzled.

Then four weeks ago, Tampien began his effort to purchase it.

“I was thinking maybe I’d just make it an event center or shut it down and just let Realtors rent it out, but that wouldn’t do any service to the community,” he said. “But I didn’t exactly know. So I was going to buy it and shut it down until I figured out what to do with it.”

That is, until he met Arnold and Bovey.

“I met them and thought ‘That’s the energy we need,’” he said.

Though they will maintain it as a second-run movie theater that shows classic movies modern viewers have never seen on the big screen, Bovey and Arnold plan many changes.

Most notably, they plan to host events and themed screenings like what they did with Fritchie earlier this year for the 40th anniversary of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

“We had actors and costumes walking around everywhere,” Bovey said. “We sold out the entire theater. We’d like to see more of that type of thing.”

Additionally, they plan to operate with a much smaller staff and a simpler food menu that will allow them to keep ticket prices low – $1 low.

“We’re passionate about bringing back dollar movies,” he said.

On Saturdays, the three want to show family-friendly films and cartoons for a buck, something that has the potential to impact the surrounding area, Bovey said.

“Afterwards, families will get out of the movie and they can come and spend the entire day at the Garland District,” he said. “It’s something that’s going to really revitalize this whole district.”

The men are also planning some $9 million of renovations to the interior and exterior of the building, according to Tampien. But they are unsure when work will occur or if the theater will be closed during it, Arnold said.

“A few weeks ago, we thought this was dead water,” he said. “We have a lot to figure out.”

To continue to survive, Fritchie said it will take someone with ideas to evolve the theater’s business model.

Tampien agrees.

“For this to work, we have to come up with a whole new concept, a whole new operation,” he said. “And if we’re going to do it – we might as well get a little crazy with it.”

The Garland first opened on Thanksgiving Day 1945. In 1999, Fritchie purchased the business, and then the property in 2002.

Reflecting on her years of ownership, she was flooded with memories like when a patron hid a microwave just outside of the exit door to make his own popcorn or when a pair of men streaked naked throughout the theater before speeding away.

But more than her own, she said she cherishes the memories the community made at the theater. She would often hear touching stories of married couples whose first dates were at the theater or from wives who were proposed to there.

“There are a lot of sweet stories like that, that I hear over and over again,” she said. “The Garland really did have a big impact on the Spokane community.”

Though she reflects fondly upon her time as the owner of the cinema, she feels a sense of relief to have sold it.

“It’s been especially rough since COVID,” Fritchie said. “But I really felt like I needed to keep it going for Spokane.”

Because of its history, Fritchie felt obligated to keep the cinema open by any means necessary, even while financial pressures mounted.

The effort raised nearly $50,000, none of which has been spent, according to Fritchie. The sum will be handed over to Arnold and Bovey, which they hope to continue to grow, Arnold said.

“We want to do another push,” he said. “We need fail-safes, we need a second projector, the popcorn machine is on the fritz – the more donations we get, the more cool stuff we can offer.”

The last few movies to be shown under Fritchie’s ownership will be “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” “Violent Night,” “The Polar Express,” “Frozen” and “The Princess Bride.” She also is working to show “Purple Rain” and the recent blockbuster film “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour,” but showings of those have not been finalized.

When asked if she would show some her own favorite films before passing the torch, she said she would not.

“I want to honor what Spokane wants to see,” she said. “It’s never been about me.”

Arnold and Bovey met in April of this year when Bovey worked with Fritchie to launch a fundraiser to relieve the business from financial pressures it and many other theaters across the country are facing.

Donations could be perfect for the new owners’ business model. They are considering reorienting the business as a nonprofit, where every dollar earned is reinvested into the organization.

But this is still to be decided. Whatever the type of organization the business is, the group’s primary focus is to keep Garland a community theater.

“Without the Garland, this whole district hurts. I mean, it’s the heart of this area and the city, too,” Arnold said. “You can talk to anybody here and they’ve been to the Garland. Now that will continue for generations to come.”