Last week was quite an eventful one for the men and women of Galaxy Cinema. It all started at the beginning of the week, when they learned they may not have a job soon.
Last Monday, employees at the Cary art-house theater were blindsided when the News & Observer printed an article stating the theater may be demolished and replaced with a 53,000-square-foot Harris Teeter.
As the week progressed, news began to get bleaker. On Wednesday, the N&O reported that the theater is facing eviction, owing $130,000 in past-due rent. Finally, Galaxy chief executive Kirit Padia admitted in the paper on Saturday that he has no hopes for the theater's future. "We are going to lose this. We're going to close," Padia told the N&O. "There are no 'ifs' and 'buts'. We know what our obligations are."
All of this is immensely confusing for the theater's employees. Marketing director Kim Yaman is especially baffled by all the back-rent talk. As far as she knows, the Galaxy has been quite current on the rent; she even says they wrote out a check for July's rent last week. And apart from a couple months where rent payments were halted because Padia was out sick, they haven't been behind—certainly not 21 months behind, as the N&O reported.
"We're sure that this is some kind of error or there's a reason," says Yaman. "We just don't know what that reason is. We have not been informed."
York Properties, which manages the rental issues for the GTT Corporation, which owns the land, still says that if Padia wants to meet up with them and resolve this, he's more than welcome. "We do not know, as of late, if we are moving forward with the other plan," York Properties chairman Smedes York told the Indy on Saturday.
"But, in any event, [Padia] would need to bring the rent current. We believe the rent requirement in the lease is very, very reasonable."
Galaxy employees are perplexed as to why they're being singled out as a bad tenant worthy of being kicked out of their establishment. (Some observers speculate that Galaxy owners may be looking to shut down the theater so they can concentrate more on operating Bombay Beijing, the Indo-Chinese restaurant they run across the street. According to the N&O, they owe $30,000 back rent on that place as well.) Anyone who was at the Galaxy last Friday night knows they are not struggling for business. The parking lot was packed with cars. Wes Anderson's long-awaited film Moonrise Kingdom began playing in one of its auditoriums, which was virtually filled to its capacity for its first Friday-evening showing.
"Business this year has been very good," says Yaman.
Besides, it isn't just their theater that's being targeted for a wrecking-ball action. According to Yaman, the proposal for the building of the Harris Teeter includes demolishing the Galaxy as well as two office buildings next to the theater. "We're not really privy to the overarching financial stuff," says Alex Ladd, one of the Galaxy managers.
"We know what we see here and we know the information we've been told. But we don't know what's going on above us."
Of course, this news has also been distressing to theater attendees. There's a "Save Galaxy Cinema" page on Facebook, which has already amassed more than a thousand followers. Even people who were there on Friday night, like Nancy and Todd Hemphill of Cary, say it would be a loss if this theater wasn't around to accommodate them.
"It would affect us a lot because we love it here," says Mr. Hemphill. "It's a really good resource," adds Mrs. Hemphill. "We could go to the Rialto or the Colony, but it's not nearly as convenient. It's a really nice little place."
Even rival art-house venues in the Triangle are surprised by the eviction news. "I see the numbers they're posting," says John Munson, who operates the Rialto and Colony theaters in Raleigh. "There are services that collect all the numbers and their numbers are good."
Munson chalks this up as just another corporation coming in and trampling over the little guy. "I had heard that the price, the real estate value, has gone up considerably over there. So, Harris Teeter is able to just come in and throw its muscles around and say, 'We want that space and we can pay this.'"
At the moment, it's business as usual for Galaxy employees, who are running the six-screen multiplex the same way they've been running it since the theater opened in December 2004. The theater (which was previously home to the Imperial Cinema IV and the Madstone Theatres) has carved out a niche playing not only independent and foreign films but also Bollywood films. It's also been a spot for local film festivals as well as live televised events (like the upcoming Wimbledon finals, which they'll screen this weekend).
There have been no plans to move the Galaxy to another spot or to contemplate running it as a nonprofit theater in a new location. Besides, the Harris Teeter proposal still needs to go through the town's zoning and development office, and York Properties and Padia have to come to a decision about the rent.
The folks at Galaxy Cinema, just like everyone else who has a vested interest in this, are just waiting to see what happens next.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Galaxy of debt."