MORAGA — Another old movie palace in Lamorinda could soon be vanquished.

The operators of the Rheem Theatre, a major tenant in Moraga's Rheem Valley Shopping Center, say unless box office revenues pick up dramatically, they won't be able to operate the theater.

And if a new operator isn't found soon, the 52-year-old facility could close its doors after the holidays.

"If people are not going to the movies or decide to go to another theater in the area "... we're not going to be able to keep the theater open if we're losing money," said Jim Sheehan, who runs the Rheem and the Orinda Theatre with his business partner, Tom Peterson.

Business is down more than 30 percent from last year, he said.

Sheehan and Peterson were hoping for a good sign with the opening of "New Moon," the latest film in the popular "Twilight" series, which raked in nearly $150 million at the box office last weekend.

They didn't get it. Ticket sales at the Rheem for "New Moon" were down 35 percent from the first "Twilight" film last year.

There's a chance the theater could stay open if the landlord, Mike Puri, finds someone else to run it. He said he's talked to a couple of people about taking over operations, but the response has not been good because the theater doesn't make enough money.

Puri could run the Rheem in the short term if a new operator is found, but he said Tuesday he didn't have enough information to make that decision.


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Sheehan and Peterson likely will step down as operators Dec. 3 unless business improves, Sheehan said. Turnout was good Monday night, he added, possibly because word has gotten out about the theater possibly closing.

The potential closure comes at a time when the Rheem center, like many retail areas across the country, is struggling because of the recession.

Nearly a dozen storefronts are empty, and two more tenants are on their way out.

Sheehan said declining foot traffic at the center is a major reason for declining theater revenues, but also cited the theater's lack of visibility to an audience beyond Moraga.

He said the Orinda Theatre, with a neon marquee visible from Highway 24, is doing well financially.

"(The Orinda Theatre) has access to a large audience, where the Rheem is, I would say, strictly a neighborhood theater," he said.

If the Rheem Theatre closed, it's unlikely it would ever reopen, Sheehan said, because of the difficulty in getting older buildings up and running again after being shut down.

And without the Rheem, the Orinda Theatre would be the sole survivor in what was once a hub for old movie palaces.

The Park Theatre in Lafayette closed in 2005.

Losing the theater could further hurt Rheem Valley businesses already hit by the recession.

"There's a fair amount (of customers) that say they're going to see a movie," said Joel Kratter, a manager at Alimentari Amoroma restaurant near the theater.

"It's a handful," but in this economy any difference would be felt, he added.

The Rheem is a "part of Moraga's identity," said Chamber of Commerce President Edy Schwartz, and it would be a great loss to the town if it closed.

"It is so convenient to get a bite to eat at one of our local restaurants and then go to the Rheem Theatre to see a movie, so much easier than going to Walnut Creek or even Orinda," she said. "Although it does not look good right now for keeping it open, I hope there is a way that this will happen."

Reach Jonathan Morales at 925-943-8048. Follow him at Twitter.com/sosaysjonathan.

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