Little Theater gets new lease on life as movie house and comic book shop

February 18, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

The Little Theater on the Corner in historic Ellicott City is re-opening as a combination second-run movie house and a comics and collectibles shop.

Three former comic book store employees have a five-year lease with an extension option on the building at the corner of Main Street and Old Columbia Pike. The former home of Onstage Productions, a nonprofit children's theater group that operated for 10 years at the prime downtown site, has been vacant since August 1991.

Charles Kimbrough, 31, Daniel Poreca III, 27, and Joseph Ferraro, 23, worked together at Geppi's Comic World in Woodlawn before becoming partners in forming Santa Lives Productions, the corporate name for the movie theater and comic shop. Mr. Poreca was formerly a manager and Mr. Kimbrough an assistant manager at Geppi's; Mr. Ferraro still works there as a security guard.

Lewis & Carroll's Comics & Cards could open as early as tomorrow in the lobby of the building, Mr. Poreca says. The upstairs space for the comic book shop, which will include new comics, back issues, sports cards and other collector's items, will be ready to open within two weeks, he says. Comic book displays in the theater lobby sometimes will be related to the film feature, Mr. Kimbrough says.

Already, the stairway wall is adorned with a colorful mural featuring such animated luminaries as Batman and The Joker, Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk, Scorpion and Green Goblin.

The movie theater -- which will feature animation, foreign, monster, science fiction, comedy classics and student film festivals as well as Hollywood movies several months after their release -- is expected to open by April, Mr. Kimbrough says.

The partners plan to charge $2 to $3 admission to the movies and subsidize that operation through the comic shop, he says. They also hope to attract sneak previews of first-run movies.

The partners are doing much of the interior renovations themselves and are making minimal changes to the theater, which has 108 seats. The movie house will retain its Little Theater on the Corner moniker.

Mr. Poreca estimates that start-up costs will be about $25,000, with the film projection equipment comprising about half that amount.

Mr. Kimbrough recently moved from Baltimore to Ellicott City, where Mr. Ferraro grew up. Mr. Poreca lives in Baltimore.

"Joe [Ferraro] and myself travel through Ellicott City quite a bit," Mr. Kimbrough says. "We'd see the theater and it was always closed. We like the area and the ambience. We thought we could make a go of it."

Although Mr. Kimbrough hears "gloom and doom forecasts" from his friends, he says the partners have received support from local retailers and shoppers, and they bring with them a strong following of comic book collectors.

"A lot of serious collectors will come from far away," says Mr. Kimbrough, who specializes in imported comics and previously managed a science fiction and fantasies bookstore in Baltimore.

"There are people looking for things, and we'll try to get it for them."

The comic shop will have a subscription service.

Ellicott City Business Association President Barry Gibson said the re-opening of the marquis corner building could help other downtown businesses.

"We don't thrive on vacancies," Mr. Gibson says.

"I think it will be an asset as a theater. It functioned successfully as a theater in the past and that's something of a need here," he says. "It's an area where people need a place to be entertained."

Mr. Gibson says parking shouldn't pose a problem because two lots are in the vicinity of the theater.

The 51-year-old building opened as The Ellicott movie theater after a 1940 fire destroyed Berger's Grocery and Der Wong's Laundry, which previously occupied the site. The building was converted to a disco in the 1970s. Colored lights remain under one section of the floor.

Onstage Productions started producing plays in 1982. But the organization couldn't handle the rent increases and the recession, which led to a decrease in contributions and grants.

The new tenants are paying $1,600 per month in rent, Mr. Kimbrough says. He admits that the partners have limited financial resources but adds that they are committed to making the project a "lifetime achievement."

Mr. Ferraro, a visual arts major at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, says one reason he is interested in the business is to provide an outlet off campus for student movies.

"We're looking at doing what we like to do," he says. "If it turns out to be a good profit, great. But we want to keep it up and going."

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