Closed since 2005, the Westview Mall cinemas will reopen tomorrow as the Diamond Cinemas Westview under the ownership of local comic-book distributor Steve Geppi.
"I've always had an affinity for movies and movie theaters," says Geppi, 58, owner of Diamond Comic Distributors, the world's largest distributor of English-language comic books. "And I've always thought the best place to locate a comic-book store would be next door to, or practically in, a movie theater. Not that I'm ready to announce that I'm opening a comic-book store at Westview, but you never know."
Reopening the Westview Mall theater, just inside Interstate 695 on U.S. 40 in Baltimore County, will bring movies back to an area in Catonsville with a storied cinematic past.
The Edmondson Drive-In Theater operated on U.S. 40, just outside the Beltway, for 37 years before shutting down on New Year's Eve 1991. The Westview Cinemas, just west of the drive-in, showed movies for 32 years before closing in 1997. Both structures have since been torn down.
The movies at the Westview Mall will be the second new Baltimore-area theater to open in the past six months. Landmark Theatres' seven-screen Harbor East, of which Geppi is a co-owner, opened in November.
The nine-screen Westview Mall facility opened in 1992. But the theater closed in 2005 after its corporate owners filed for bankruptcy.
Geppi's business partner, Ira Miller, said the theater will look much as it did when it closed, albeit cleaned and spruced up considerably.
"We polished it up," said Miller, a former vice president for marketing and operations with MGM. "We've almost got it back to the way it was when it opened." Geppi and Miller say they have plans to install stadium seating and digital projection within the next year.
The nine theaters range in size from 200 to 450 seats, with a total capacity of 2,500. Tickets will run $8, $6 for matinees before 6 p.m. Miller says plans are to offer free Tuesday- and Thursday-morning showings of second-run films, with tickets to be distributed to area residents on a first-come, first-served basis. The theater will carry major studio releases such as 10,000 B.C. and College Road Trip, both of which are in its opening lineup.
Geppi, who is also a minority owner of the Orioles, operator of Geppi's Entertainment Museum at Camden Yards and publisher of Baltimore magazine, says he looks forward to trying all sorts of marketing strategies at Westview, including tie-ins with the comic books his company distributes.
"Comic books are just proliferating at the movies," he says, "and I think it's a natural progression for me to have my tentacles into whatever embodies my business."
He and his partners, Miller and Bob Wienholt, already operate three theaters, including one in Hagerstown (Diamond Cinemas Hagerstown Movies 10) and two in Pennsylvania (Diamond Cinemas Kendig Movies 6, outside Lancaster, and Diamond Cinemas Hanover Movies 6 in Hanover).
Opening the Westview cinemas brings Geppi back to Catonsville, where he lived for a time in the 1970s when he worked as a mail carrier and near where he opened his first comic-book store, in an Edmondson Avenue basement in 1974.
"With the people I know and the magazine that I have," he says, "maybe we can provide Catonsville with a nice movie theater like they haven't had in a while."