Thursday, October 19, 2006

What's wrong with this picture?

September 28, amid great fanfare, the lights went on at the new Victory Gardens space at the Biograph Theater. Just months before, another neighborhood institution - the Three Penny Cinema - closed its doors after 34 years because they could not afford to continue to do business in the city.

The Three Penny's Jim Burrows fell deeply in arrears on the city's 7 percent entertainment tax. Major distributors have "exclusive" deals with big corporate houses, like the Century, and will not send first-run movies to independents until they have run their course. "They tell me that Three Penny cannibalizes business from the Century and Webster Place," he told me. That's nonsense and it is anti-competitive. It also kills the very businesses that Ald. Daley appears to be trying to support with the Local First Chicago initiative and the "formula retail" ordinance.

Any small bookstore can buy any book in print for sale. A small grocery can buy brand-name products wholesale. No distribution chain is as anti-local business as the movie industry.

Biograph has a gala while Three Penny vanishes. As happy theater lovers sampled hors d'oeuvres and sipped champagne in the Biograph's new lobby, I wondered why the city and the alderman didn't go to bat for the simple, no-frills moviehouse across the street.

I want to support small, independent local businesses like Three Penny. Two years ago, I developed a plan for supermarkets and it has since broadened into a Retail Access Master Plan. This would give small local businesses like Three Penny a leg up. Businesses without local control would have to pay a higher tax. This is more productive, and less controversial, than any "formula retail" ordinance. It also helps to answer some of the problems that the "big box" ordinance endeavored to address.


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