Snacks and the Recession

A nice rant by George D. Allen. After being told that his small popcorn will cost six dollars

When the young girl behind the counter gave me that figure (it was the only thing I was buying), I was quite literally and without exaggeration stunned into silence. I’m also one of those customers who just so happens to have had enough mileage on the other side of the customer service relationship to understand that flying into a bitter rage of complaint would do me, my server, and the cause in general absolutely no good whatsoever.

So, after hearing the outrageous sum, I had a clear choice. Buy, or walk away. I was hungry enough and had no other recourse, so I bought and said not an impolite word.

And now, I’m walking away. There is no way I’m paying those prices for that food ever again. It’s absurd on its face to charge that amount of money, I don’t really care about the desperate straits the theaters find themselves in because the studios rake off so much of the average ticket price right off the top. It concerns me not that they’re in the midst of haggling over exactly who is going to pay how much to upgrade their projectors to keep up with the digital evolution (or devolution, as some might argue) of the movies.

I’ve long argued that the average theatre that sells overpriced refreshments would make more money and sell some product if they drastically lowered their prices, selling the candy and popcorn for about the same price as the local drugstore does. For years my own silent protest has been to smuggle in M&Ms in my pocket rather than pay the five dollars the multiplex is asking. Many times I see other moviegoers doing the same thing, pulling their own soda bottles and sweets out of their pockets—and, after the lights go down, our eyes often meet and there is an instant recognition not of mutual shame, but of solidarity. It’s a look that says, “Yes, my friend, they may take our arms and legs for the ticket price, but they may not take our right to consume Swedish Fish at the normal market value!”

Some of the local neighborhood theaters I frequent get it. One such old theater, which was built in the forties and screens mostly classic films, sells a box of popcorn for one dollar, and a larger one for two dollars. In fact, all the refreshments are either one or two dollars. I doubt they have a smuggling problem, since everything they sell is priced about the same as it would be at 7-Eleven down the street. The genius of it is, on a crowded Saturday night screening of Adam’s Rib, there wasn’t a person in that theatre who hadn’t purchased at least one item from the concession stand. And they were happy to have done so, ecstatic even. They hadn’t been cheated. And because they hadn’t been cheated, many of them resolved to be repeat customers. Indeed, there are many familiar faces when I go to that theater. Why, they ask, should I pay for an overpriced ticket and refreshments to see the newest Jennifer Lopez atrocity, when I can instead go to my local old-fashioned theater and see Tracy and Hepburn in all their celluloid glory?

A lot of cinephiles have been asking themselves this question for years.

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