On Monday afternoon, Griffin Barchek, a rising junior at UW, headed to Wallingford to work a shift at the Guild 45th, as he had been doing roughly 30 hours a week for the past year-and-a-half. He heard the bad news before he'd even stepped inside. “I was the second person to get there," Barchek said. "I was told immediately by a disgruntled co-worker outside. Then there was a sign on the counter that said ‘We’re closed for renovations.’”
Though he had no hard evidence to support the hypothesis, he believes the sign is a pipe dream. “Renovations are very unlikely," he speculated. "It’s probably just closed for good.”
Once inside, Barchek said a representative from Landmark's corporate office was on hand to inform him and his co-workers that both the Guild and the Seven Gables would be closed indefinitely ("for renovations"), that their services were no longer required, and that they'd all be receiving three weeks' severance. Barchek said he earned the $15/hr minimum wage for his work as an usher, in the box office, and behind the concessions counter.
“She just kept saying ‘I’m sorry’ and kind of making a duck face,” he said of the Landmark representative. (As has been the case with all press inquiries regarding the sudden closure of these theaters, Landmark has refused to comment beyond saying they are closed for renovations.)
Barchek's suspicion that the company does not plan to renovate or reopen was aroused when the woman said there was "no time frame" for when they might be back in business but "definitely not within this year." Employees were also told they would be "'welcome to reapply when we’re open again,’ which seems like an easy way of not committing to opening again,” he said. “They don’t really have that much to gain from reopening.”
None of this was a huge surprise, according to Barchek: “For the last year, things have been going downhill pretty fast at the Guild." As far as he could see, the company had spent “basically nothing” on repairs during the time he'd been working there, a perception borne out by anyone who has seen the long, slow, heartbreaking degradation of the Guild's once glorious Deco stucco edifice. The inside, especially of theater one, had become even more decrepit, with broken seats, filthy floors, and a general air of surrender to entropy. It seems plausible that this contributed to the declining attendance—just as much as Netflix or any of the other usual scapegoats for failing entertainment businesses.
“We were not making much money," Barchek explained. "Like, very few customers came in… regulars were the only people who would, and they were all over 70.”
It's worth noting that Landmark's presence on Seattle's movie landscape was once close to imperial. At the company's mid-'90s peak, it boasted nine theaters—Seven Gables, Guild, Metro, Varsity, Neptune, Harvard Exit, Broadway Market, Egyptian, Crest—with 27 screens between them, nearly all dedicated to independent and foreign language releases. This was unheard of in America, and clearly unsustainable.
Landmark has undergone management and ownership changes since then, but it's worth noting that the company's Seattle footprint (which had its roots in the locally-owned company Seven Gables Theaters, acquired in 1989), now consists of a single theater, the North end discount house the Crest, built in 1949 and still a real beauty if you care about movie theaters. If you haven't been in a while, you should probably hurry.
So the Guild's closure wasn't a surprise, but was Barchek still angry about how the company handled letting its employees go? “Kinda. Everyone had seen it coming for forever. It was just a matter of when it was going to happen. But giving no notice was kind of shitty.”
Did any of them consider retribution?
“No," he shrugged. "They were pretty much following us around when we came in to make sure nobody stole anything.”
Instead of trashing the popcorn machine and making off with a truckload of purloined Red Vines, the Guild's employees did what Landmark Theater Corporation employees have been doing for decades, both on and off the clock: They got drunk. According to Barchek, after the news began to circulate, “everyone met up at the Octopus," the bar located between the two buildings that house the Guild's screens one and two, "and waited for more people to show up and find out.”
Barchek said he felt confident that he'd keep in touch with his friends from the theater in the weeks and months to come, but he was less sanguine about another, more pressing matter. When asked if he had any immediate prospects for employment, he gave an answer that will be increasingly familiar to an increasing number of Seattleites:
“Uh, no," he said. "No.”