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Trio Plans Sequel for Osio Cinemas in Monterey

Monterey County’s only art house cinema abruptly closed last month, leaving behind a gaping hole for movie goers looking for new documentaries and independent films.  But now there’s an effort underway to re-open the Osio Cinemas in downtown Monterey.

Jirko Senkel stands in the deserted lobby of the Osio Cinemas. It’s theaters are dark.  The popcorn machine is empty and no one is selling tickets. In fact, the only thing filling the lobby these days are the sounds of the adjacent café.

“It’s too empty.  It would nice to see some customers walking in and finding out about tickets, smelling the fresh popped popcorn, seeing them excited about going to the movies,” says Senkel.

He was the general manager of the Osio for the last 12 years. During that time he also partnered with KAZU to host the station’s monthly movie club.

But over the years the theater, which is owned by Los Angeles based Central Coast Cinemas, was selling fewer and fewer tickets.  

“We noticed there were not as many people coming any more. We didn’t get the movies that we were supposed to be getting.  They cut the opening hours, and one day they said this is going to be the last day,” says Senkel.

Last month, Central Coast Cinemas filed for bankruptcy and closed the theater leaving him and five others suddenly out of work.

Now Senkel, his fiancé and the owner of Cafe Lumiere which is located next to the theater, have partnered to try and reopen the Osio Cinemas. They are using the online website Kickstarter, which allows people to donate to their effort.

The goal is to raise $70,000 to pay for much needed maintenance and upgrades at the theater including converting two un-used screens to digital and buying software that allows for online ticket sales.

As the three sit at a  table in the cafe, owner Brandi Lamb says they also have a plan to run business differently.

“We can’t just show movies.  We have to offer food. We have to offer beer and wine. We have to be a community event space where people can rent the theater. Where people can think of this as a place where the community can come and participate in the art community of our little town,” says Lamb.

So far they’ve raised over $45,000 from donors, some of whom will receive small thank you gifts, but no financial stake in the project.  If they don’t reach their $70,000 goal, the donors will not be charged.

“Right now if the people will notice that have donated that the money hasn’t been taken out of their accounts. It’s still theirs.  If we don’t make the amount basically nothing happens,” says Shanneen Kirkpatrick, Senkel’s fiancé.

Even if they raise that money, challenges lie ahead.  Since Central Coast Cinemas is in bankruptcy, all its assets are frozen -- including all the theater equipment and even the lease on the building.  So the three have hired an attorney and are preparing a proposal for the bankruptcy trustee that they hope will allow them to reopen the theater.

But these obstacles don’t’ intimidate Brandi Lamb.  She’s been here before. Eight years ago she reinvented the cafe after the previous owner closed it.

“I worked for the owner prior to them closing. I was heartbroken I put everything financially and my heart and my soul into opening the café and I think I am ready to do the same thing for the Osio.  I am willing to go all in on this project,” says Lamb.

Back in the empty lobby of Osio, Jirko Senkel smiles as he remembers how he could tell what movies were playing in the theaters just by the sounds he heard in the lobby.  When the film was scary he would hear screams.  When it was funny, laughter.

“I love movies. I mean even just selling tickets and talking to people about movies Even just scooping the popcorn. You know I love working at the movie theater,” says Senkel.

If all goes as planned, it’s a love he hopes to rekindle as early as this fall.  That’s when they think they could re-open the theater.   The deadline for the Kickstarter campaign is September 2nd.