It’s a plot twist for Walla Walla movie-lovers.

The community’s Grand Cinemas has new ownership under the Cinemark Theatres Family.

Customers on the movie house’s subscriber list received notification of the changeover Thursday via email. The transition was visible this morning as the previous website took on the Plano, Texas,-based Cinemark identity and name “Cinemark Grand Cinemas.”

The theater was the longtime operation rooted in Walla Walla about 40 years ago by Ray and Jeaneva Hallett.

“We are so appreciative of the Hallett family and very excited to have such a great theatre join the Cinemark team,” said James Meredith, Cinemark’s senior vice president of marketing, in an email this morning.

Meredith said Cinemark’s enhancements will include:

  1. Restructuring the box office ticket pricing and making the moviegoing experience more affordable.
  2. Expanding hours, adding more showtimes.
  3. Adding some amenities, such as new seats, lighting and carpet upgrades, and significantly enhancing concessions with more variety at the snack bar.

“The extremely talented management team will not change, and Cinemark has extended an offer to all staff members who have applied for a position,” Meredith said in the email.

More specifics, including timelines, were not available at press time.

Movie listings were live for the weekend but by 10 a.m. were not yet posted for next week, including the popular summertime discount days.

Cinemark had 6,051 screens in 547 theaters across the U.S. and Latin America as of the end of March. That includes 342 theaters and 4,596 screens in 41 states.

The 12-screen theater at 1325 W. Poplar St. is Walla Walla’s only movie house. The ownership change, though, is part of a long narrative in the community for film buffs.

Walla Walla’s theater joins Cinemark’s Washington locations in Bellevue, Federal Way, Olympia and Tacoma.

The local theater set the stage for Ray Hallett to move from retail to movies in the 1980s.

According to previous coverage in the U-B, Hallett was a film fan frustrated by challenges in watching movies at the one movie house in town, the Liberty Theater. Mechanical and other problems disrupted the movie-watching experience.

So he and Jeaneva set out in 1981 to create a new one. He left his position as manager of the Plaza Way Bi-Mart store and secured a federal Small Business Administration loan in a perfect two-week window of time, since never before or after was such a loan granted for theaters.

The opened the Plaza Twin with one 400-seat auditorium and one 300-seat auditorium.

After that he opened another theater in Sunnyside. In 1985 he built the Poplar Street Cinemas in Walla Walla.

Here competitor Sterling Recreation Organization, the Bellevue-based owner of the Liberty Theater, built a competitor for Plaza Twin with the Jefferson Park Cinemas.

By the mid-1980s Sterling Recreation sold to Cineplex Odeon. That company sold the Jefferson Park theater to Hallett in 1988. He ended up closing the Plaza Twin.

Two years later, he retired in his late 30s, selling to Plitt Amusement Park of Oak Harbor and set out to travel the world.

Not quite a decade after, as he and his wife contemplated getting back into the business, Plitt went under, and Hallett, who had retained ownership of the buildings in the original sale, got the Jefferson Park and Poplar Street Cinemas back.

Within three months, ground was broken on what would ultimately become Walla Walla’s exclusive theater. The Grand Cinemas opened March 31, 2000, and the Poplar Street and Jefferson Park theaters closed.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at 509-526-8321, vickihillhouse@wwub.com or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/VickiHillhouse.

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.

Recommended for you