BERLIN - A movie theater is one step closer to selling alcohol.
The Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously approved the tavern permit request for Picture Show Entertainment’s theater at 19 Frontage Road.
“We’re trying to elevate the quality experience,” said Jeff Stedman, owner of the chain that has theaters in 11 locations around the country, told the ZBA. Stedman bought the theater in December 2016.
“I feel good about the response and the positive detail we received as a board,” said ZBA Commissioner Corey Whiteside.
The local tavern permit allows the sale of beer, wine and hard cider not exceeding 6 percent alcohol by volume. It is necessary for the applicant to then apply to the state for its permit, explained Zoning Enforcement Officer Maureen Giusti.
Patrons who buy alcohol would be allowed to drink in the lobby area, or go into the theater with their drinks, said Stedman at the meeting.
Stedman said Thursday that his company has applied for a state tavern permit and is expecting to hear back in about 30 days.
Obtaining the alcohol permits is part of a $2 million investment project to revitalize the theater, which will include removing the center concession stand area and adding a more café-like area to sell pizza, hamburgers and gourmet hot dogs in addition to traditional movie theater fare.
A guest service area with self-purchasing ticket kiosks, a Coca-Cola “freestyle” machine that will serve over hundreds of flavors and flavor combinations and a self-serve Icee machine will be added, in addition to updated décor throughout the building. Two lounges will be built on each side of the entranceway.
“We want this to be the nicest theater area,” said Stedman, saying Plainville has the nearest comparable theater.
The theater recently installed electric reclining lounge seats in 12 auditoriums as part of Phase I of the renovations, and is now in Phase II, moving the satellite concession stands that haven’t been used in 15 years, adding entrances to the auditoriums, adding trash receptacles and recycling, and modernizing the bathrooms. Front sign and façade work was recently completed, as landscaping is looking to be completed as well. Once the corridor is completed, the theater will begin work on Phase II of the lobby area.
“We’re competing with online, Netflix and other home theater entertainment, so we have to really continue to improve the out-of-home experience so patrons … will continue to want to come,” he said.
Zoning regulations previously prevented the sale of alcohol beverages within a 1,500-foot radius of another establishment that sells alcoholic beverages. A variance was granted at a June ZBA meeting to allow an exception to the rule, since Strikers, at 841 Berlin Turnpike, is within the area.
Residents spoke for and against the additional sale of alcohol at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I don’t know why we have to have a bar,” said Ann Richotte, adding that she supports upgrading the theater, but that adding a bar doesn’t provide an atmosphere for a family.
“They don’t need liquor in their movie theater,” said George Fisk, worried about adding a location where liquor is available at place where kids go.
“When you tell kids no, they want more,” he added.
“I think the word ‘bar’ is not appropriate here,” said Andrea Rossingnol, who thinks the idea is great and says a glass of wine at the movies is harmless.
A neighbor of the theater spoke at June’s meeting, fearing the potential for increased loitering.
Stedman wouldn’t say if the Berlin location’s bar would limit patrons to buying two drinks at a time, and no more than three for a patron’s stay, as is the case in the chain’s Arizona location. He said staff is trained to prevent sale of alcohol to minors and the handing off of drinks to minors and to monitor patrons’ intoxication levels.
The theater also altered its original plans, to remove exit doors near the bar, after the ZBA expressed concern, as an added measure to prevent patrons from the leaving the theater with their drinks.
Stedman said the bar would typically open in the afternoon through “the last scene” of the last movie. Tavern permits allow holders to serve Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m., Friday and Saturday 9 a.m. to 2 a.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Signs stating that alcoholic drinks will not be allowed past a certain point will be posted near the exits, Stedman said.
“Of all the liquor licenses that have come before you, I would argue that this is probably the tamest one you’ll ever have, because we’re not in an environment that we want to create a party atmosphere,” said Stedman, stating that at baseball games, which have breaks in the action, unlike movies, fans are allowed to buy alcoholic beverages repeatedly.
Stedman said the renovations should be completed by Thanksgiving of this year, and the theater will remain open throughout.
Other theater in the area that sell alcohol include Spotlight Theaters in Hartford, Rave Cinemas in Manchester and Cinemark in North Haven.
Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or firstname.lastname@example.org.