At the request of Westown Movies in Middletown, state Rep. Quinn Johnson has introduced a bill that would allow movie theaters in Delaware to sell beer, wine and liquor.
Sports venues can sell beer, wine and liquor.
So can concert halls and bowling alleys.
But in Delaware, stand-alone movie theaters are excluded from holding a liquor license, as the owners of Middletown’s new 12-screeen multiplex recently discovered.
“One thing we know from studying the industry is that some people enjoy having a beer or a glass of wine while they watch their movie,” said Rick Roman, the manager of Westown Movies on Merrimac Avenue. “It’s a common and growing trend with theaters around the country and we think it would be a nice addition to the movie-going experience.”
At Westown’s request, state Rep. Quinn Johnson (D-Middletown) last week introduced a bill that, if approved, would allow movie theaters with at least 500 seats to hold a liquor license in the First State.
“I understand there might be some concerns about movie theaters being for family entertainment, but there are other similar venues, like the Mid-County Lanes Bowling Alley in Middletown, where alcohol sales are allowed under certain regulations, and it’s been working well for quite some time,” Johnson said this week. “If people really want to go drinking, they’ll go to a bar. But this would allow responsible adults to have a beer or a glass of wine while they enjoy a movie.”
Johnson noted that at least 30 other states allow beer, wine and liquor sales at movie theaters, including Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Virginia.
Theatre N at Nemours in Wilmington is the only movie theater in Delaware that’s currently permitted to serve alcohol because it is operated by CityFest, which is eligible to hold a special liquor license granted only to nonprofit organizations.
“There used to a movie theater in Newark that served beer and wine, but that was because they also served meals and were licensed as a restaurant,” said John Cordrey, Delaware’s Alcohol Beverage Control Commissioner. “Right now, the only license that’s available to for-profit movie theaters is a taproom license. The downside to that is, it precludes anyone under the age of 21 from entering the premises and, obviously, many of the patrons of movie theaters are teenagers, so that would not work out well for them.”
Cordrey said his office would develop suitable regulations for movie theaters to follow, if the bill passes.
“It’s not something that can be put in place until there is a law permitting such sales,” he said. “But clearly, we would want to ensure a person can’t purchase an alcoholic beverage and then hand it off to someone who’s underage once they get inside the theater.”
Roman said Westown Movies has proposed controlling consumption by establishing a separate location for alcohol sales, using easily-identifiable containers, limiting the number of drinks that can be purchased by each customer, issuing wristbands and monitoring in-theater consumption with ushers and its existing security system.
“Theater owners in other states we’ve talked to say 90 percent of their customers buy one drink to have during the movie and that’s it,” he said. “Just like family restaurants, Blue Rocks games, or bowling alleys, we think people should have a choice to enjoy a drink without changing the experience, as long as it is done responsibly.”
Under the bill’s current language, movie theaters would have to host a minimum of 250 showings in a calendar year and be open at least five days a week to be eligible for a $1,500 liquor license, which would be good for two years.
A similar change in the state liquor licensing law was approved in 2012 to accommodate concert halls, such as World Café Live at The Queen in Wilmington.