Got a call today from a frustrated Larry Wasem, business partner of Dan Tocchini Jr, who is taking over the lease of the Rialto Cinemas Lakeside.

Let’s just say that Wasem did not agree with our editorial “Save the Rialto,” which encouraged  local government officials to lend a hand in helping the moviehouse find a new home. After all, city officials had helped Wasem and Tocchini, president of Santa Rosa’s SR Entertainment Group,  in building their Roxy Stadium 14 downtown.

“I just don’t get it,” Wasem said, disputing the perception that they are the “big guys” pushing out the little guy. “We have a long history of doing business in this county. We want to operate an art house here . . . We have been working on this Rialto deal for about five years. We wanted (the theater) back. End of story.”

Yes, Wasem and Tocchini are longtime, respected local businessmen. But this shouldn’t be the end of the story. Ky Boyd, the owner of the Rialto, has developed a loyal following of his own over the past 10 years. He’s built a franchise and built a reservoir of goodwill in the community, and his customers are rightfully disappointed with how his business is being taken from him.

Why shouldn’t the city at least help him find a new location?

The answer is simple, Wasem said. “We all know that only one art house is going to operate here.” There’s simply not room for two, he contends.  When movie theaters work a deal to show a film, they secure exclusive rights to show it within a certain geographic area. So no two theaters in the same town will be showing the same film.

“Why did we want (the theater) back? Because it’s our business,” said Wasem. “We live here. That was Dan’s theater. We wanted it back. It’s just not that mysterious. We went in, negotiated a deal. (Lynn) Duggan liked it. End of story.”

(For another perspective on this issue of Tocchini taking back the theater,  see Chris Smith’s column today.)

Here are a few other things that came from my conversation with Wasem:

  • He and Tocchini had discussed converting the theater complex on Third Street in downtown Santa Rosa into an art house but abandoned that idea. “We talked about it. We just decided it would be a big bloody fight, and we would both lose,” he said. “There just isn’t enough money on that side of the business for both of us to make it.”
  • The Lakeside Deli, the small sandwich place on Summerfield Road near the Rialto, may be a casualty in this changeover of management of the Lakeside shopping center. (Wasem will now be the manager in place of David Codding.) It looks like the deli’s lease won’t be renewed.
  • There’s some disagreement over who owns the rights to the “Rialto” name. But there probably won’t be a battle over it. Tocchini will probably change the name of the moviehouse back to what it was 10 years ago: the Lakeside cinemas.
  • But first, the moviehouse may need some extensive roof and seismic repairs which could affect the timeline  for the changeover in operation. Boyd’s lease is set to expire at the end of August, and the new theater is expected to open on Sept. 1. When the repairs would occur is unclear.
  • Final word, “Basically our intention is to change nothing,” Wasem said. He doesn’t understand why people seem to doubt them about that.

 –          Paul Gullixson

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