October 4, 2013 Updated: October 5, 2013 at 6:54 am
Moviegoers in Woodland Park soon will be able to enjoy some spirits while watching the latest blockbuster show on the big screen.
Gold Hill Theatres was approved by the Woodland Park City Council on Thursday to begin selling beer and wine at the movie house near U.S. 24 and Colorado 67 in the Teller County town.
The council voted 7-0 in favor of a petition filed in late August by the theater's majority owner, Ed Shirk.
"We had some patrons saying, 'Boy, if we could just get a glass of wine or a beer, that would be great," Shirk said Thursday just hours before he was to go before the council.
Woodland Park City Clerk Cindy Morse said there was no public opposition at Thursday night's meeting to Shirk's request. In fact, there was only one quick comment by the council before the motion was passed.
Morse said Gold Hill will be able to begin selling beer and wine within a week. Shirk and co-owner Bill Page are waiting to receive final approval via email from the state. Morse said that is simply a formality because the theater has met all requirements.
The move by Shirk and Page is in line with an aggressive strategy to keep customers spending their movie-going money in Woodland Park.
Shirk joined Page as an owner in late 2011 after spending a year as the Gold Hill Theatres manager. Since then, Gold Hill made the shift to digital equipment. Shirk didn't share the precise cost but said switching over can cost from $60,000 to $80,000 per screen.
The small theater had two screens when it was built in 1970s and until this year that was the setup.
Shirk and Page added another screen in the spring, complete with stadium seating and the modernized equipment. The partners recently began renovating one of the original screening areas to accommodate two screens and boost their total to four.
Studies by the Woodland Park office of Economic and Downtown Development suggested to Gold Hill that the mountain community of more than 7,000 people and the surrounding area could support a theatre with up to five screens, Shirk said.
"Somebody told us, 'If you don't do something, someone else will,'" he said.
The switch to digital and the expansion are more important for driving the Gold Hill business than adding sales of beer and win, the owner said.
"The titles on the marquee are what bring people in," Shirk said, noting that adding the third screen allowed Gold Hill to show blockbuster titles the day they debut.
"The more of those we get, the more the local market will come."
Shirk estimates Gold Hill Theatres' market to be about 35,000 people. He said customers come up the mountain from Manitou Springs seeking the friendly, small-town atmosphere. They also travel from as far away as Guffey and Fairplay to the west, which can be more than an hour drive.
The Gold Hill owners are aware that adding alcohol sales brings certain risks.
Shirk and Page presented a plan to council to insulate against those risks and maintain their family-oriented movie theater.
"There is the risk of somebody doing something stupid," Shirk said.
Morse said Gold Hill will keep beer and wine sales separate from other concessions such as "popcorn, candy, etcetera."
At Thursday's meeting, the clerk presented Shirk's renovation plans, which include a separate concession area to serve adult wanting a drink.
The theater's plan will also limit when and how much beer or wine can be bought. Shirk said those with tickets to movies "G" or "PG" rated movies will not be able to consume alcoholic beverages, and everyone will be subject to a two-drink maximum.
Gold Hill plans to serve only Colorado microbrews and will have some Colorado wine, keeping in line with their local business model. But the wine list will feature some selections from outside the state, Shirk said.
The owners have also formed a partnership with the restaurant next door to complement the beer and wine sales.
Shirk said Gold Hill and Carmen - A Tapas Grill & Bar are ironing out plans to have a "dinner and movie night" once or twice a week. He said the idea is to offer an abbreviated menu at the movie house and allow customers to order food from the restaurant.
"My staff and I will act as waiters and waitresses," Shirk said. "And if someone wants a beer or a glass of wine with dinner, we'll have it."
The only other movie house in the Pikes Peak region that offers alcohol sales to its customers is Kimball's Peak Three Theater in downtown Colorado Springs.
Shirk said he did an informal study of Kimball's, which has been named best movie theater for more than a decade by multiple Colorado Springs publications. Kimball's is different, however, in that it specializes in independent films and has a full bar.
When asked if Gold Hill aspires to follow that model, Shirk said it's not in the plans. He and Page plan to continue to bring in the mainstream blockbuster titles, and they have no plan to offer more than beer and wine.
"I don't want to learn how to be a bartender," Shirk said.