June 23, 2008
Carmike Six Cinema
1005 Garden Blvd.
Charlottesville, VA. 22901-1461
To the Charlottesville Carmike Six Manager:
I am writing to express my utter dissatisfaction with the quality of service and the general ambiance of your theater.
In the seventeen years that I have been a Charlottesville resident, I have witnessed the quality of the Carmike Six theater degrade to a state that beggars description. I have seen repeated instances of customers being forced to stand in line out in the hot sun because a single clerk is working the box office window, while other staff members inside remain seemingly unoccupied and wholly oblivious. Once inside, I see little effort to bring any organization to the lines of people lined up at the snack bar, so instead of working my way around a defined line to find my theater, I end up pushing my way through a milling crowd clamoring for butter-scented popcorn.
The actual theaters and seats are horrifyingly filthy, and I have seen little concerted effort to apply any fundamental cleaning between screenings. One recent afternoon, I saw a single staff member armed with a mere carpet sweeper cursorily swiping away at a theater floor that could have benefited more from a fire hose and a sanitation team.
And on the subject of sanitation, the Carmike Six bathrooms are unspeakable. The disarming smell of melted butter and plastic that permeates the entire complex combines on some disturbing level with the stench of urine cakes and human sweat to produce a malodorous assault that makes grown men weep. And heaven forefend that one should feel the need to commit other than the most urgent and passing bodily function or anything that might require even the suggestion of privacy, for such would be impossible in stalls where the locks have long since fallen out and left only holes that provide sweeping views of the crouched victims within, and the waiting lines without.
Recently, my family had an experience at Carmike Six that finally convinced us to take our business elsewhere. On June 1 of this year, we decided to see the new Indiana Jones movie. As frequently happens, our choice of venue was not dictated by any desire to attend your establishment, but because yours was the only place nearby where we could see our selected film.
I checked your website for showtimes. It was a Sunday afternoon, and I saw that screenings were scheduled for 1:45 and 2:00. I suggested that we get there just a bit before 2:00 and try to get in to the 1:45 show, thereby missing the usual 20 to 25 minutes of commercials that precede each screening. If the 1:45 show was sold out, then our next plan was to buy tickets for the 2:00 show and just endure the commercials.
(I realize that the need to show all those previews, Diet Coke, and Fandango barf bag commercials are undoubtedly driven by corporate policies, but I wish the Carmike Corporation also had a policy of publishing more honest start times for those of us who feel that we’ve given you enough of our money to be spared the additional insult. But I digress…)
We arrived at about 1:50, and it turned out that the 1:45 screening was sold out. However, when I inquired about the 2:00 show, I was told that the next screening was not until 4:00. I pointed out that there was a 2:00 screening listed on the theater website, and the young lady at the box office replied “Oh yeah, someone else mentioned that.” No further explanation being offered, we bought tickets for the 4:00 show and bided our time at a local bowling alley. In retrospect, two hours of hurling large objects at defenseless pins was a far better use of our time and energy.
We returned to the Carmike Six at 3:30 and actually felt fortunate to already have our tickets in hand. Two long lines snaked out into the blistering asphalt of your parking lot: exhausted families waiting for Indiana Jones, and single women lined up for Sex and The City. We were able to walk past all that and, once having fought our way through the mass of humanity crowded around the snack bar, found adequate seats in the theater and waited for the afternoon’s entertainment to begin.
And waited. And waited. I struck up a conversation with the gentleman behind me, we introduced our families, and had enough time to learn our entire life stories and begin writing a novel. Finally, at around 4:20 (remember, this was a scheduled 4:00 screening), the gentleman had the presence of mind to brave the crush of hungry people outside of our theater and go find someone to start the film. We promised to help raise his children should he never make it back, but return he did a few minutes later and armed with this simple explanation: “they forgot”. We had an entire theater of patrons waiting to see Harrison Ford fight Communisits, and none of your staff members had thought to actually push the button that starts the film. The lights did dim shortly afterward and the projector fired up, though we were of course subject to 20 minutes of commercial advertising before the actual motion picture began.
After that experience, I affirmed that Hades itself would freeze over before I once again stepped foot in Carmike Six Charlottesville.
This last weekend, my family wanted to see Get Smart. Checking the weather reports and determining that the underworld was not experiencing a cold snap, we decided to go a different direction … literally. We drove to Short Pump to view our film at the Regal Cinema 14.
Have you ever been there? It’s really quite remarkable. The seats are comfortable and clean. They have cupholders, and are arrayed so that one is not craning to look over the head of the person seated in front. The screen is actually white, instead of the faded ivory of the Carmike screens. The floors do not stick to your shoes, fresh air wafts in, and the staff is unfailingly polite. Oh, and the bathrooms are not a source of personal embarrassment.
Even with gas prices as they are, it is completely worth it for me to drive the extra hour out to Short Pump in order to bask in this pleasant theater-going experience. Until the Carmike can compete at that level, you have lost one more customer. However, should the day come that you decide to raze your theater and start anew, I can suggest a model that you should follow: simply make going to the cinema pleasant again by providing comfort, consideration, and hygiene. I wish you nothing but luck in your ventures.