By Neil Farrell for Morro Bay Life
MORRO BAY — It’s a marquee message you’ve probably never seen on a movie theater; instead of the name of the latest blockbuster, the Bay Theater in Morro Bay’s marquee reads, “For Sale.”
Mary Lou Jannopoulos has owned the Bay Theater for the past 25 years. Her late-husband Jim originally bought the Bay in 1973 from Ruth and Ted Morris.
The Army Corps of Engineers built the beautiful theater with its majestic gigantic wooden beams and trusses in 1942, when Morro Bay was an amphibious training base for World War II. G.I’s were among the Bay’s first customers.
The Bay Theater is the last single-screen, storefront theater, still exclusively showing movies in San Luis Obispo County and the only movie screen on the North Coast. (Yes, the Fremont in SLO is still open but is now mainly used for live music shows.)
Jannopoulos is just heart-broken over the decision to sell and said she held out as long as she could during the pandemic closures that started last March and brought her business to a screeching halt.
She has been running the Bay since 1995, with her two daughters-in-law, Heather and Denise, helping manage the Bay. Actually, Mrs. Jannopoulos said they mainly run it, as she was down to working just a couple of days a week before they had to close.
The pandemic response shut down the business, but the bills didn’t stop; with utilities, business license fees, health department fees, and more, she had to dig deep into her personal savings to stay afloat.
But even though the State is starting to ease off the lockdown brakes, the movie business has changed dramatically in the past several years.
Mrs. Jannopoulos explained that just ten years ago, the studios took 35 percent of the gate but now their cut is 65 percent.
They also require theaters to run their films for a minimum of 4 weeks, which in a place like Morro Bay is undoable except with the biggest movie hits.
And perhaps the most troubling change has been studios that are now releasing movies to streaming services simultaneously with theaters, perhaps reflecting this younger generation’s obsession with their phones.
So with the pandemic, the film industry changes, and increased employee costs have the Jannopoulos Family ready to move on.
She’s listing the theater at $1.5 million, which in a town like Morro Bay where a 3-bedroom house can top $1 million, seems like a real bargain.
“That’s why there is so much activity [with potential buyers],” she said. “Because I’m practically giving it away.”
The Bay Theater should sell quickly, not just because of the low price, but because it is truly in great shape, “turn-key,” as all three Jannopoulos girls said.
“I hope it’s kept as an entertainment source,” said Mrs. Jannopoulos. She knows how much the little theater has meant to the community.
It’s been a good life for the family and given countless local teenagers their first real jobs. “As a family running it,” Mrs. Jannopoulos laughed, “we didn’t get rich, I can tell ya.”
She said the theater was very profitable up to 2020, and over the years, they’ve put much of the money back into the business toward achieving her goal of providing the community a theater they can be comfortable in and proud of.
Much talk has taken place in online forums like “Next Door Morro Bay,” where commenters have recalled fond memories they have of the Bay Theater.
“It breaks my heart to have to sell it,” Jannopoulos said. “I hope it’s kept as an entertainment source. We’ve spent all these years here. I’ve loved it.”