Matthew Yenkala overcame a lot to make Chandler Cinemas a success at Arizona Avenue and Warner Road, but it wasn't enough to keep the 10-screen independent theater open.
Beleaguered with deep operating losses caused by soaring energy costs, poor visibility from the street and other obstacles, Yenkala and volunteers saved the independent theater from closing late last year with fundraisers and good marketing.
"We've kind of miraculously overcame a lot of those issues," Yenkala said Wednesday.
But despite Yenkala's hard work and successes, Chandler Cinemas' last day is Sunday. A new tenant is moving into the theater's space.
Yenkala, who was on a month-to-month lease, said he's not upset and had an understanding with the landlord that the theater would close when a more lucrative use for the space was found.
"As a businessman in this economic climate, I understand and can't blame (the landlord)," he said.
Yenkala, who took over the 22-year-old theater from Tucson-based Grand Cinemas in January 2008, said he saw an approximately 500 percent increase in business since late last year, and he increased operations from three to seven days a week.
The theater is unusual for several reasons. It's among a handful of discount theaters in the Valley that play second-run movies before they're released on DVD, and it's one of a few theaters to show small-budget, independent films. It's also the only place in the Valley that regularly showcases the hugely popular cult classic movie "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."
The musical, starring Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon and featuring a cameo by Meat Loaf, has had a strong following nationwide since its debut in 1975. The showings of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" involve as much live theater as actual movie-viewing with performers and fans in the audience acting out their favorite scenes as they're simultaneously occurring on the screen.
Gail Andreasen, an employee and "Rocky Horror Picture Show" performer whose roles include the characters Magenta and Columbia, said she doesn't yet have a Plan B after Chandler Cinemas closes. The sole breadwinner in her household, she said the theater was her family's main leisure activity.
"So, it was a twofold double heartbreak for me," she said.
Andreasen doesn't yet know what she will do next.
"I'm keeping my hopes," she added. "I can't sit here and be depressed about it."
Chandler Cinemas will host a farewell party for the public on Sunday. Yenkala said the theater will cancel all regular showings and feature live entertainment including bands, a hookah bar, and vendors selling fetish toys and clothing. The theater will also feature a final performance of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" and "Repo! The Genetic Opera," which are two fan favorites.
Yenkala said he's actively considering other venues for "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," but "nothing is set in stone."
Yenkala said he'd love to bring the show back to Mill Avenue in Tempe, where it was showcased in the Harkins Valley Art Theater during the 1990s. He said he's also attracted to downtown Phoenix and thinks the West and northwest Valley offer great untapped markets for the performances.