Wednesday, December 16, 2009

16 DEC 09: Reindeer in the Closet

We mentioned Tuesday there's a campaign proposal to put limits on gifts to Georgia elected officials. So have YOU put a limit on year-end gift-giving -- especially with the economy tight? Have you cut spending to the point that you're waiting for Chia Pets to be marked down 40 percent?

BLOG EXCLUSIVE: The President of Carmike Cinemas revealed to your blog Tuesday night the company chose NOT to display Christmas decorations downtown this year, in a cost-cutting move. He talked with us, after an e-mail to the blog asked....

Hi Richard:

What became of Santa and his reindeer? They didn't stop at the Carmike headquarters this year.

My first reaction to this was one you might not like to read. Maybe the Carmike management suddenly became like a nine-year-old boy - and realized the only real living Santa Claus is a tourist-trap town in Indiana.

Drive by the Carmike Cinemas headquarters on 13th Street in past Decembers, and you would have found an airborne display outside the building. Reindeer and a sleigh appeared to be in flight, with no visible strings. It was probably the closest thing to movie "special effects" that Columbus could afford.

But Carmike President David Passman told me Tuesday night it cost money to put up and operate that airborne display. Without giving an amount, he said it cost the equivalent of a "full-time employee." No, I did NOT ask if this was a choice between eight reindeer and an elf.

So with the economy tight and Carmike Cinemas trying to avoid layoffs, David Passman says the sleigh display (if I might say) is in storage for the holidays. Uh-oh - I'd better be careful, or this is going to become one of those poems people recite at parties after drinking spiked egg nog.

The Carmike Cinemas President explained the sleigh display is one of several "discretionary expenditures" which have been cut this year. When we asked what the others were, David Passman didn't say. Hmmmm - do employees have to bring their own popcorn now, and use the microwave to heat it?

David Passman doesn't want people to get wrong ideas. He says Carmike Cinemas has had a "good year," and movie attendance is strong, from people saving money and taking "stay-cations." But revenue is being trimmed because customers aren't buying "that extra box of popcorn, that extra cup of soda...." So they're sharing with each other, instead of the general manager....

Carmike Cinemas has done some retrenching over the last couple of years. David Passman says about 15 new theaters have opened, while about 60 have been closed as long-term leases expire. For some reason, those closed theaters were not revamped as year-round haunted houses.

David Passman hopes 2010 will be a stable year for Carmike Cinemas, with an equal number of theater openings and closings. While Passman can see Phenix City from his office window, he's not ready to promise a new theater will be built there. That's OK - developers of the Phenixian shouldn't have been ready to promise that building, either.

"We're very happy to be here in Columbus," David Passman said concerning the Carmike Cinemas headquarters. Passman admitted he's fairly new to the area. It showed when he told me the IMAX Theatre at the National Infantry Museum is "far enough away from the city" not to hurt local business. Yes, there ARE Columbus residents south of Victory Drive.

When our phone conversation ended, I admittedly was stunned - and not really about the lack of reindeer. The President of Carmike Cinemas returned the call of a blogger?! Wow -- this never would have happened in the era of Carl and Mike Patrick. In fact, I might have been expected to pick up a paper statement in the headquarters lobby.

This conversation actually shows what a year of change 2009 has been at Carmike Cinemas. David Passman clearly has made the theater chain more outgoing in the community. Carmike even sponsored one area of the Steeplechase in November - so the managers still like horses, even if the reindeer are hiding.

So to sum up our e-mailer's question: David Passman assures me the reindeer and sleigh display are somewhere in what he calls Carmike Cinemas' "black building" on 13th Street. For some Christmas lovers, that title probably seems more fitting than ever.

We should note not everyone is going unplugged at this time of year. Soldiers and their families lit a tree Tuesday evening on Kelley Hill at Fort Benning. Oops - I should explain that. This tree was inside a recreation center, and decorated with Christmas ornaments. At other times of the year, tree-lighting at Fort Benning is called "controlled burning."

-> Our other blog starts with poker, then goes in directions you might not expect. People around the world visit "On the Flop!" <--

OVERHEARD OVER HERE: A man is walking through an office, saying one word over and over: "Delete, delete, delete, delete, delete."

Another man sitting nearby responds. "Thank you, Mr. Woods."

Now let's "alt-control" some Tuesday news topics....

+ Jason Dennis announced via Facebook he'll become the co-anchor of WTVM's 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. newscasts in January. Apparently Charles Gibson was NOT persuaded to "retire" to Columbus.

(Jason Dennis writes he'll continue to co-anchor WXTX "News at Ten," after sharing the anchor desk with Barbara Gauthier at 5:00 and 6:00. But he did NOT say anything about WTVM's 11:00 p.m. news. Please don't tell me Chuck Leonard is going to start pulling all-nighters.)

+ A Columbus Police car caught fire while parked outside the Macon Road Waffle House. The evening news blamed the fire on a faulty cigarette lighter. Thankfully it wasn't the alternative - someone running over from Viva El Toro with fresh fajitas.

+ Quitman County Sheriff Steve Newton admitted to WXTX he's practically run out of money, with two weeks left in the year. Newton says he's trying to operate the department "as cheap as I can." So if you see a hitchhiker at the edge of Georgetown, it could be a deputy on duty.

+ Columbus Council voted to allow 18 hours of use per day on the "rails to trails" path being built across town. It will be open from 5:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. The other six hours are reserved for undercover drug operations.

+ Wachovia Bank unveiled what it calls a "green" automated teller at its Medical Center branch. It's called green because you can deposit money without envelopes. But I won't believe it's really "green" until Wachovia gives some money back to its customers, and stops charging them simply to have an ATM card.

+ The 988th Military Police Company held a final ceremony at Fort Benning. It's being moved to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri - which could mean the soldiers coming here with base realignment are tougher than anyone expected.

+ The governors of Alabama, Florida and Georgia held a meeting on water-sharing in Montgomery. They predict a compromise will be worked out by the end of next year. Translation: they're all praying for another record-breaking year of rain.

+ The Phenix City Council awarded retired linebacker Woodrow Lowe a key to the city, and departing WTVM reporter Greg Funderberg a proclamation declaring a special day. Hmmmm - which one do you think council members want to become Central High's next football coach?

+ WRBL reported Georgia's football players will receive Blu-Ray DVD players as gifts, for playing in the Independence Bowl. If the bowl organizers made the same offer to Bulldog fans, they might actually drive to Shreveport to watch the game.

+ Instant Message to the announcer in the "Georgia Saturdays" commercial for Ford trucks: I keep hearing you say, "Believe ME" - and I keep asking: Who ARE you? I never even see you, to determine if you're related to Coach Mark Richt.

Today's main topic was the result of a blog reader's tip. To offer a story tip, make a PayPal donation, advertise to our readers or comment on this blog, write me - but be warned, I may post your e-mail comment and offer a reply.

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