They say grapes grow best in tough soil, and the same may be true for the Vine Cinema.
The two-screen theater on First Street in Livermore has faced many challenges in its 53 years of operation. Perhaps the biggest was the opening of a 13-screen theater on the other side of the downtown just two weeks after the Vine celebrated its silver anniversary.
Operator Kenny Way, who has been with the Vine since 1990, said over the years, the theater has flourished. For a while, it was one of the highest-grossing movie theaters in the area.
Yet, it's been a tough few years with the latest competition paired with a rough economy, which Way said has forced them to adjust their business model. The decision in July to offer independent movies was partly due to requests from patrons, but also because of the competition with Livermore Cinemas to show the blockbusters. The Vine, he said, usually didn't get top pick for popular films.
In addition to showing a different type of film, they are moving toward what Way says is the future of movie theaters.
"We're more than just a movie theater," he said. "We're an event theater."
For those interested in dinner and a movie, it's now available all in one place. As of September, the Vine is able to serve beer and wine as well as light meals provided from next-door neighbor Zephyr Grill. The fare includes easy-to-eat foods such as burgers and salads.
"You can order from the snack bar and have it delivered to you in the theater," he said.
Many people, however, order their food in time to eat before the movie begins, Way added. The adult beverage selection includes Livermore Valley wines and "off the beaten path" beers. Currently, the most popular selections are Wente's Riva Ranch Chardonnay and either Blue Moon or Lagunitas IPA.
In the two screening rooms, they have taken out a few seats to make room for small round tables, with the tops reflecting popular movie posters. In about two weeks, couches will be installed.
Way said that attendance hasn't dramatically increased with the changes, but they do have a loyal crowd as well as new customers. Way said news of the improvements has mostly spread through word-of-mouth, and that about 75 percent of their customers are surprised by the offerings when they walk in.
It is a draw for those who like independent films, since the other options can take movie buffs as far away as Pleasant Hill, Berkeley and San Francisco. The film "Precious" has proved to be a draw, attracting people from Danville, San Ramon and even Modesto and Stockton.
In addition to showing movies, the Vine also hosts parties and football game viewings. At 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. the next two Sundays, they will show the playoff games on the big screen, leading up to a big Super Bowl showing on both screens Feb. 7. Admission to these games is free, but there will be a $10 food minimum for the Super Bowl.
To learn more about the Vine Cinema, visit www.vinecinema.com or call the movie showtime line at 447-2545.