For more than 12 years, Claremont’s only movie theater has been a staple of the community. Now, its fate is uncertain.
Officially named Laemmle Claremont 5, the theater belongs to an 81-year-old chain of nine Laemmle theaters across Southern California. At least part of the chain is up for sale, according to a report published by Deadline in August.
It’s unclear whether Claremont’s Laemmle is included in the potential sale.
Guy Valdez, general manager of the Claremont 5 location, has 22 years of experience with the Laemmle company and confirmed none of the theaters have been sold yet, though he said the chain is still pursuing sales.
“No sales have gone through, but nothing has changed since the [Deadline] article [was published],” he said.
Valdez attributed the company’s sales decision to low business, particularly blaming the lack of a youth presence.
“From what I can tell, [Claremont 5] has had its ups and downs, as far as business,” Valdez said. “I would think there would be a lot more young people coming to the theater, especially at night, but it’s just not really that way … There’s so many other things for [younger people] to do.”
Eddie Gonzalez PZ ’04, assistant director of production for the 5Cs’ Intercollegiate Media Studies department, has had a longstanding relationship with the Claremont 5 Laemmle and picked up early on its struggling business.
“I’ve always wondered about the Laemmle: ‘Are they making their numbers, in terms of business?’” Gonzalez said. “Over the years, 5C students doing media studies were very connected to going to the theater. But between 2007 and now, streaming has obviously become a thing. It’s devices over cinema. Kids just don’t go.”
Gonzalez, however, acknowledged a fault in the Laemmle for not tapping into relevant audiences at the Claremont Colleges, recommending a need for the theater to advertise itself as an educational resource.
“They need to do a better job of outreach with regards to being a source of film education, because I don’t think they’ve ever even approached the Colleges,” Gonzalez said. “This isn’t just about watching movies, it’s about supporting and learning about the arts.”
When asked how the Claremont 5 theater would revamp, Valdez didn’t mention the 5C student community and instead said the theater was looking to correct what he called “the streaming problem.”
“We’re getting our alcohol license and bringing in new food items, and I believe the seats are going to change as well, and we’ll have recliner seats,” Valdez said. “Hopefully that will bring in more people, since the trend right now is trying to make everyone feel like they’re at home streaming the movie.”
5C students, though, expressed less of a discomfort with the logistics of the theater-going experience and instead found the theater to be untailored to their desires.
Alan Ke PO ’22 said he felt the student discounts at the Laemmle were unclear and that even with a student discount, the experience was never special enough to warrant visiting the theater often.
“It does what it does. If you want to watch a movie, you go there,” Ke said. “Maybe that’s why it’s such a hit with seniors, but I find that the Laemmle lacks its own experience and its own cohesive [style of] cinema, and it’s even a bit pricey.”
Fernando Bolio PO ’22 and Selena Lopez PO ’22 also acknowledged that the Laemmle never advertised particularly well to a younger demographic.
“I would be sad to see the Laemmle go, because I know it has a long history,” Lopez said. “But at the same time, I realize me and my friends never went very often.”
Bolio felt the theater failed to adapt to a millennial and Generation Z demographic.
“It’s nice to have an accessible theater in the Claremont Village, but, at the end of the day, students go for the movies, not the accessibility,” he said. “After all, the fullest I’ve seen the Laemmle was for a Marvel movie.”
Valdez, the manager, found the charm of the theater to be in its old-school hospitality and said the strength of the Laemmle was rooted in its small-town charm.
“We’re not the type of theater where [everyone is] just robots — in and out, in and out,” Valdez said. “We talk to our customers, ask them what they’ve seen … That’s what brings people here: You can’t see these movies or this customer service anywhere else.”
As the chain remains on the market, the local theater will continue screening movies, and its customer service will keep welcoming moviegoers.