Newark allows movie theaters to sell alcohol with permit
Special from the Newark Post
— Nothing says a night at the movies like a box of candy and a bag of popcorn, and now that alcohol is on the menu, moviegoers can wash down all that butter and sugar with a glass of wine or their favorite brew.
On Monday night, city council amended Newark’s code to allow indoor movie theaters to sell alcohol in the BB and BC zoning districts on a conditional basis and with a special-use permit.
The change comes on the heels of a 2014 state law legalizing alcohol sales in movie theaters. So far, theaters like Penn Cinema Riverfront in Wilmington, Regal Cinemas in Brandywine and Westown Movies in Middletown have already taken advantage of the opportunity.
Newark’s only indoor movie theater – Newark Cinema Center – was evicted from the Newark Shopping Center in October after struggling for months, behind in rent and unable to afford needed upgrades.
This summer, Main Street Movies 5 will open in its place. The space will be expanded to 18,000 square feet and undergo an estimated $3 million in renovations including five new screens, approximately 500 reclining seats and self-serve ticket kiosks.
Main Street Movies 5 owner Arthur Helmick also wants to sell alcohol at the new theater and has been petitioning the city to change the code.
Last month, he told the Planning Commission – which voted in favor of the change – that the state has strict guidelines for selling alcohol at the movies, including a two-drink limit for the duration of the film. Patrons purchasing alcohol must be identified by a wristband, and ushers are required to check the auditoriums, which must also be monitored by video surveillance, to make sure patrons aren’t passing drinking to underage moviegoers.
Helmick also owns
Westown Movies and told council Monday night that he hasn’t had any issues selling alcohol in Middletown. He said he expects Newark to be the same way.
“Going to the theater to drink, that’s not what you come to this theater for,” he said.
However, several residents were concerned that amending the code would turn Main Street Movies 5 into a party atmosphere and set a precedent for future requests.
“Any use will be grandfathered forever, so you better get it right the first time,” said resident John Morgan.
He noted that he wouldn’t have a problem if Main Street Movies 5 – the only theater in Newark that would benefit from selling alcohol – was in an area with more adults and families, not within walking distance from “rather immature undergraduates” at the University of Delaware.
As a compromise, Morgan suggested the theater be limited to serving one drink per person instead of two.
“Getting up to get another drink is disruptive,” he said.
Resident Jean White said drinking alcohol at the movies isn’t necessary when there is a handful of restaurants and bars downtown where moviegoers can get a drink before and after the film. She said the theater just wants to sell beer and wine to make money.
“Every bar and restaurant wants a piece of the alcohol pie,” she said.
Councilman Todd Ruckle argued that students have their own theater in the Trabant University Center and most likely would not turn Main Street Movies 5 into a drinking party, if they even go at all.
“This is more for the residents than the students, and I really don’t see the students going,” he said.
Still, Councilman Mark Morehead was hesitant and urged his colleagues on council to “tread carefully.”
“This would head us down the path of maybe having alcohol at an ice skating rink, a grocery store, a hair salon,” he said.
Other members, like Marge Hadden and Stu Markham, saw the code change as an “opportunity” to have trained employees watching for alcohol abuse and monitoring consumption.
“I’m willing to support this experiment,” Markham said. “You’ll be under a microscope, whoever comes first, but I’m willing to give it a try.”
Council voted 6 to 1 to amend city code to allow indoor movie theaters to sell alcohol in the BB and BC zoning districts on a conditional basis and with a special-use permit. Morehead was the only opposing vote.
The ordinance passed Monday, however, does not directly allow Main Street Movies 5 to sell alcohol. The theater will need to come back to council at a later date for a special-use permit.
On Monday, council passed an ordinance allowing movie theaters to sell alcohol as long as they apply for a special-use permit. Main Street Movies 5, which will replace the now-shuttered Newark Cinema Center, is expected to apply for an alcohol permit.