"My family has been in the film business for 40 years," said Bob Milgram, 36, owner of the 60-year-old Church Lane film house with Roslyn Cagan. "My Uncle Dave used to own some of the grand old theaters in Philadelphia - the Milgram, the Fox and the Uptown. "When I graduated college, I started in the business as a film buyer for area theaters."
One of Milgram's accounts was the Yeadon, which was previously owned by Rhea Friedman. "Rhea always had a reputation for running a hospitable theater, but as she got up in years it was harder for her to maintain the building. I told her one day that if she ever decided to sell, to call me first," Milgram said.
The call came seven years ago, and with the financial help of his family and an eager partner in Cagan, 42, a long-time Milgram employee, the two took over the 820-seat theater.
Unlike other area second-run theaters, the Yeadon "was always successful," he said.
"Because of its location, the theater attracted people from Delaware County, West and Southwest Philadelphia," Milgram said.
One of the factors that led to the demise of the other discount theaters was the failure of the owners to put money back into the theater, he said. ''You have to continually maintain the building. Even for two dollars, people won't come back to a dirty theater."
Not only is the Yeadon well-maintained, but it has undergone a facelift since Milgram and Cagan took it over.
"We put in a new air-conditioning system, new concession stand, and we replaced the seats with used seats we bought from a theater that closed," Cagan said. And, just a few weeks ago, the classic art deco marquee was spruced up. "My next project is to install drink holders on every seat," she added.
Milgram explained that his policy is to offer any film that he thinks can make money. "We offer everything from Spike Lee to Snow White. I remember when I used to buy films for Rhea, she had a reputation for being difficult - she didn't want one film because she thought it was too rough. To me, it's not the film that can cause trouble, it's some of the people who can cause problems."
He tries to offer children's films every weekend, Milgram said. ''Especially during the winter months, I'll see the same people come in over and over again because it's an opportunity to get the kids out of the house," he said.
Milgram said that profit margins are slim for single-screen theaters, whether they be first- or second-run houses. "With one screen you're obviously limited. Every theater has to split a percentage of the box-office receipts with the film company, so the money you make from admission covers maintenance and expenses. Most one-screen theaters make their money from the concession stand," Milgram said.
Of course, it also depends on the film that's showing. "We recently ran King Ralph and L.A. Story, and there were some nights when you could have shot off a cannon in the theater and not hit anyone. But we just started to run Home Alone this week and we sold out a few times."