“You get into it because you love movies,” says Jim Schwenterley of the cinema business, “and then you find out you’re dealing with so many things that have nothing to do with movies.”
After building local art-house empire the Nickelodeon Theatres for 23 years, owner Schwenterley just wants to do what the rest of us have been doing at the Nickelodeon, Del Mar and Aptos Cinemas week in and week out: watch movies. With that goal in mind, he’ll soon be out of the business: if everything goes as planned, the Landmark Theatres chain will acquire the three theaters on Dec. 15.
Schwenterley began feeling out the idea of retirement a few years ago, as he and his partner Paul Gottlober threw themselves into the film and theater scene in L.A. But like a lot of people, he didn’t know where to start, and didn’t know how to go about selling the company.
Going back to the grind wasn’t getting any easier when Schwenterley and Gottlober met some of the Landmark entourage, including CEO Ted Mundorff, on the Hollywood screening circuit. They kind of reminded Schwenterley of the crew back home.
“It’s a very interesting group of people. Not unlike the people who would work for the Nickelodeon,” he says. “They have an appreciation and a love of movies. They’re not just businessmen.”
Mundorff expressed interest in buying the theaters, and Schwenterley felt it was the right fit.
It just seemed like a natural kind of thing,” he says. “We didn’t really put the business on the market. They were really the only company I could see taking over.”
One crucial element was Landmark’s insistence that they had no plans to change the operation or programming of the theaters. It was also important to Schwenterley that the entire staff be retained.
“You want to make sure everybody’s OK,” he says. “You don’t want to just dump the theaters and walk away.”
Scott Griffin has been managing the Nick theaters’ day-to-day operations, and will continue to do so.
“They value having him here to keep things as they are,” Schwenterley says of the new owners. “Hopefully Scott will carry on the traditions. I’ve done the business long enough. It was just time.”