Famous Richmond movie theater closing, at least three major media outlets don’t report why

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Monday that the Westhampton Theater, a 77-year-old Richmond, Virginia two-screener that shows artsy films, is closing. If you want to know why, you’ll have to read four more stories by four other media outlets.

The Times-Dispatch is a major metro, the paper of my hometown. It has a circulation of more than 100,000, but it still produces this poorly reported and confusingly written story by Jacob Geiger, who is the T-D’s online business editor.

The reporter’s biggest sin: At no point does he write why the Westhampton is closing. Again, Geiger’s title includes editor. (As of 7:15 p.m Monday — when I checked — the story’s been updated. It now explains why the Westhampton is closing.)

The story mentions the purchase of the theater by Westhampton LLC, a real estate company owned by the Cametas family, for $1.75 million from Regal Cinemas. It gives a brief biography of the Cametases (in the final two graphs) and says the family considers the property a good investment, regardless of what’s in the building.

But it doesn’t say why it can’t be a theater. It doesn’t say if the family has any ideas for the property beyond polling the community for inspiration. Could it still be a theater if it gets in the National Registry of Historic Places (like the Byrd)? If it’s converted to a nonprofit?

Halfway through, the Times-Dispatch story veers into the reaction of a restaurant owner whose business is sandwiched between the theater and an office building, which Westhampton LLC also purchased, a fact that’s sort of explained.

Apparently, the building on the other side of the restaurant is a real estate business, which you can figure out if you reread these paragraphs several times and then guess.

City records also show that Westhampton LLC bought 5702 Grove Ave. last week for $2 million. The building, which has an assessed value of $1.1 million, covers 6,375 square feet.

The theater and real estate office are on either side of The Continental Westhampton, which opened in February 2012 and is owned by Johnny and Katrina Giavos. The restaurant's landlord is Shaheen Associates.

But why is the theater closing?

The story quotes a man named Jason Guillot, identified only as “first vice president of Cushman & Wakefield/Thalhimer.” He confirms the closing and apparently has the authority to do so, but that, too, is never explained. It’s possible to infer that he represents the Cametas family because he seems to speak for them, but that connection is never spelled out.

The story calls the Westhampton “venerable,” but that’s about it. Never does the writer support his adjective or bestow appropriate heft. There’s no context of venerability, outside of the theater being built in 1938.

The Westhampton is Richmond’s second-oldest movie theater, after the Byrd, Richmond’s last-surviving movie palace. It opened in 1928. The Westhampton also has served as a church — St. Bridget’s, a Catholic church just blocks away, once held mass there in the early 1950s — and the theater’s interior style feels of more romantic eras, pleasingly removed from the plastic enormo-plexes that supplanted the great movie palaces.

According to Cinema Treasures, a website that catalogs classic movie theaters, the Westhampton opened March 5, 1938 with one screen and a balcony. It got its second screen (and lost its balcony) in the 1980s.

The Westhampton plays art films, or at least films that don’t get wide releases. Recently, I saw Birdman there as well as Magic in the Moonlight, Woody Allen’s latest film. It’s currently showing Wild and The Imitation Game.

But again, you’d never know from the Times-Dispatch’s story. But Geiger calls it venerable, so just believe him. At least it tells you when, vaguely, it’s closing: “later this year.”

Next I read Style Weekly, Richmond’s alternative weekly and home to one of the city’s best reporters, Ned Oliver, who did great stuff with the Bob McDonnell trial and later Joe Morrissey. The Style article says, briefly, why the theater matters and alludes to why it may be closing. Oliver did not write this story.

Local Facebook feeds were blowing up all morning with Richmonders bemoaning the loss of the theater which was built in 1938 and had been a two-screen home to more artistic cinema for decades. But two-theater screens have fast become a thing of the past, unable to compete financially in the age of the multiplex.

Style also identifies Guillot and his role. The Cametas hired him to “explore options for future redevelopment.” This story also spells out that the other Cametas/Westhampton LLC-purchased property is a real estate office and doesn’t make you guess. At the end, too, there is new information. All theater employees will get the option to work at another area Regal cinema. There are six.

Still don’t know why the Westhampton is closing. We move on.

I read this story by WTVR, the local CBS television affiliate, and got more of the same information — the theater’s closing, Regal sold it to Westhampton LLC, selling price, when, etc. But at the end of the first graph, in the third article on the end of the Westhampton, someone — finally — gives a hint about why the theater is closing.

It had been owned by Regal Cinemas, which still operates the two-screen theater, but has plans to shut it down.

It’s Regal’s decision. The company leased the theater after selling it. The Times-Dispatch did have that bit about the leasing, but not about Regal dumping it.

Story 4. This is from Richmond Biz Sense. It has the bit about it being Regal’s decision to close the Westhampton, it identifies Guillot and the Cametas. It also has…

Why the Westhampton Theater is closing.

As to the decision to wind down operations of the theater, Regal spokesperson Russ Nunley said the Westhampton, known for playing alternative, independent films, has been considered underperforming for at least four years.It has not been pulling its weight,” Nunley said. “That’s not unusual for two-screen theaters."

Nunley said two-screen movie theaters are not viable economic options anymore because they don’t generate enough money to justify the staff. Small theaters still need the same number of employees as a 10-screen theater, Nunley said.

“We’re working in reality,” he said.

This story is written by Katie Demeria.

She talked to Regal and did more than just the obvious reporting, unlike Geiger — although I’d argue “why” is the most obvious reporting. She also wrote the story in an accessible way, one that doesn’t require rereadings or force the reader to connect allusion dots and guess. She also gets more information on the closing date and on the current employees’ fate.

There is no set closing date for the Westhampton Theater yet. Nunley said if the new owners have a need for the property to close earlier or later than the end of December 2015, Regal will work with them.

The movie theater’s current staff will have the option to move to one of Regal’s other Richmond-area theaters. Nunley said the company does not provide the number of employees working at a specific theater.

RVANews, the fifth story I read, took a stab at actual reporting, too. It found out why the Westhampton is closing and put the explanation at the end of its four-graph brief, or maybe they aggregated/stole it from Richmond Biz Sense. It doesn’t attribute, which, in this age of aggregate reporting, is more necessary than ever.

A Regal Cinemas spokesman says the two-screen cinema, which largely plays independent films, has been an underperforming property for years.

To recap: Three of Richmond’s largest news outlets — a major metro newspaper, an alternative weekly and a CBS TV affiliate — failed to report why the Westhampton Theater is closing. Two small outlets did. One of which, RichmondBizSense.com, wrote a full story and answered major questions.

Update: I like old buildings, especially theaters, and have seen many movies at the Westhampton. When I learned on Twitter of its imminent closing, I wanted to know why and became annoyed when no one reported it. Putting why in a news story is so simple.

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