ADDRESS: 215 SW 4th Street, Corvallis, OR 97333
PHONE NUMBER: 541-752-4161
OWNERS: Paul and Lainie Turner
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 15, including The Avalon
WHY YOU SHOULD GO: The Darkside Cinema is the only independently owned and operated movie theater in Corvallis. Reviewers call it both “funky” and “a gem.” Here’s your chance to see films that will never be shown at the corporate movie houses – at a very reasonable price.
One of the places that makes Corvallis special is its own independent arts cinema. The minute you start up the stairway at the Darkside, you know you’re entering a different universe. From the wall-covered collage of notable film characters to the TARDIS from “Dr. Who” at the top of the stairs to the giant moonscape mural showing earth from space, the Darkside invites you to enter the magical realm of the cinema to explore new ideas and images. Owner Paul Turner, with his off-the-wall humor and cynic’s perspective, is the perfect host to this beloved local gathering place. An author in his own right (Prancing Lavender Bunnies and Dodging the Butterfly Nets), Turner sends out a weekly commentary to inform both faithful viewers and potential new customers about the current film offerings. When you visit the Darkside, plan to arrive early or to linger after the film so you can chat with Paul and explore the assortment of visual treats adorning the walls of the Darkside lobby.
Paul, when and why did you open the Darkside? Before opening the Darkside, I opened the Avalon Theater in 1997. There had been no arts cinema in the community prior to that. Carmike came to Corvallis in 2004, so we had to build the Darkside to offer more diversity of product. I opened the Darkside on April Fools Day, 2005. I’m sure it was motivated by some form of psychosis. Basically, we converted a department store into a movie theatre. In city planning terms, we had a change of use – from “retail space” to “gathering space”. I was the contractor, and I taught a crew how to do all that needed to be done. Lainie was my partner in transforming the Darkside building. [The Avalon closed in 2007.]
What makes the Darkside special? There are three auditoriums running both digital and 35 mm film, and a lobby with interior decoration done under the influence. I would describe the art in our lobby as “eclectic.” We want people to feel like they’re part of something, like they’re here as our guests. We treat them well. And the admission prices are as low as they can be.
Does the Darkside fill an unusual niche? We’re at a point in Corvallis history where we’re in danger of becoming homogenized. Do you want Corvallis to become homogenized? If your answer is “yes,” then go to Carmike. If “no,” then come here. What makes Corvallis unique is in danger of becoming lost. We’ll get the Corvallis we vote for with our dollars. If you think Corvallis deserves an arts cinema, buy a ticket. If you think Corvallis deserves a natural foods co-op, then shop there.
What challenges have you faced as an independent business owner? If you’re working for an independent business, you always have to be in flux. You have to be willing to be part of something that is dynamic, changing, and growing. When the economy was bad, we had a severe dip and had to cut back. Support from the community is important because this is a very seasonal business. We get a lot of customers from OSU – everyone from the guy who pushes the broom to the women who are on the faculty. I was just 22 credits from my degree when I dropped out of OSU to open my first theater. The professors are friends of mine. They’re really good about calling me and saying, “If you show this, I’ll send my students over for extra credit.”
What do you enjoy most about owning the Darkside? One of the things I really like about Corvallis is the diversity. The Darkside is a place where both sides – conservatives and progressives – are comfortable with each other. When we had a big event for the Obama inauguration, there were people with McCain-Palin buttons on. We all sang the national anthem together. We show a lot of films that let people know what’s going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we get a lot of military people coming in. We do have a diversity of thought. Our customers include everyone from Country Fair hippies to corporate executives – and they’re all sitting in the same room.
How many people do you employ? I have two full-time and two part-time employees. We have very low turn-over because we’re careful to hire people who understand the independent ethic. We’re more involved in each other’s lives than most workplaces. Most corporate operations don’t encourage that kind of intimacy. When we hire, we ask ourselves, “Is this someone I’d want to work with?”
What steps have you taken toward sustainability? We use compostable cups, our popcorn containers are recyclable, and the water bottles are returnable. We’re buying new digital projectors that use less energy. And we basically re-purposed this whole building.
Are there other ways you contribute to the community? Lainie handles the community relations. We’re members of CIBA, the Chamber, and DCA, and we support Linn-Benton Food Share, CARDV, Willamette Neighborhood Housing Services, Crossroads International, da Vinci Days, Willamette Stage Company, and Chamber Music Corvallis. We often do special film showings. We recently showed the “Health Care Movie” in collaboration with Gluten Free RN and Samaritan Health.
(Interview and article by Annette Mills – September 23, 2012)
The Local Business of the Week program is designed to help the Corvallis community identify our locally owned independent businesses by featuring one business each week. The program is part of the Buy Local First campaign co-sponsored by the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition and the Community Independent Business Alliance (CIBA).