Businesses have a knack for exposing the arbitrary nature of government rules and regulations, especially those concerning alcohol sales.
The general manager of Wildwood Theatres Movies 16, Sarah Lehr, has done just that with her request to sell beer and other alcoholic drinks to accompany traditional sales of soda, candy and popcorn.
She discovered city ordinances would need to be changed to allow movie theaters to receive a liquor license.
Liquor laws are notorious for playing favorites and advancing the interests of those with the deepest pockets and most influence, i.e. the Wisconsin Tavern League. But being nearly 90 years removed from the Prohibition era, it’s silly for alcohol sales at a movie theater to be illegal, and the city council should move quickly to accommodate Lehr’s request.
In Janesville, licenses for selling alcohol and consuming it on site are mostly limited to bars and restaurants. There are some exceptions, notably bowling alleys and some live entertainment venues.
There’s not much logic behind an ordinance that allows beer sales at bowling alleys but not at Wildwood theaters. Perhaps the best argument against serving alcohol in theaters pertains to the presence of children and teens. Some people might question the appropriateness of serving alcohol in the presence of children. But don’t children and teens patronize bowling alleys? They certainly visit restaurants that serve alcohol.
Also, children and teens live in homes where alcohol is served. Which bring us to one of Lehr’s reasons for wanting to serve alcohol.
With Netflix and other streaming services, people have a plethora of entertainment options without even having to leave their living rooms. Movie attendance has been steadily declining, from a high of 1.57 billion tickets sold in 2002 to 1.3 billion last year, according to Box Office Mojo. Complicating matters, theaters depend increasingly on blockbusters to attract moviegoers. Years without big hits experience the largest attendance declines, such as in 2017 when tickets sales fell by 6.2%.
Movie theaters need to distinguish themselves by offering more than just a movie. They must offer a unique experience, and some theaters have gone so far as to include dinner with their movies. Wildwood isn’t just competing against Netflix. It’s also competing against other movie theaters already serving alcohol, notably in the Madison area.
So long as Lehr has a plan to ensure alcohol doesn’t get into the hands of the underage population, there’s no reason to fear serving beer and other drinks at theaters.