Less than a month after the Parkway Speakeasy Theater closed, the operators announced in an e-mail to city officials last week that they were pulling out of their second location, the Cerrito Speakeasy Theater on San Pablo Avenue. Then they quickly changed their minds.
"We have no intention of leaving," said Catherine Fischer, who has been operating the cinema with her husband, Kyle, as Downey Street Productions since the Cerrito opened in 2006. "We'll continue operating and doing the best we can."
But the abrupt statement last week sowed the seeds of confusion among the El Cerrito Redevelopment Agency, which has been negotiating with the couple behind mostly closed doors for more than a year.
"We got the impression that they do not believe that they'd be able to stay open," said Lori Trevino, redevelopment manager for the city of El Cerrito. "So we were directed by the redevelopment agency board to work with them to transition the theater into a new operator.
"In the meantime, they've said that they're staying open, and we're not really sure what's happening now," she said.
Trevino said the city hasn't begun looking for a new operator. She was to present the board with an update at Monday night's 7:30 meeting of the Redevelopment Agency board, 10890 San Pablo Ave.
Fischer said the statement was made during a "tight week" when the couple wasn't sure they could keep the business going.
"We are holding on," she said. "But at a certain point we won't be able to continue."
She said they are eager to renegotiate the terms of their lease to bring down their $10,000-per-month rent, which they have not paid for more than 15 months.
"Times are hard," Fischer said. "We clearly need help."
In fact, agency officials were ready after a year of negotiations to talk about a financial deal that would keep the Fischers at the Cerrito. But before the couple got word that the agency had decided in an April 6 closed meeting to renegotiate their lease and loan agreement, the Fischers notified the agency in an e-mail that they "will be sending out a press release in the next week or so indicating that Speakeasy theaters will be leaving the Cerrito Theater," according to a summary of an April 8 Special Redevelopment Agency meeting.
"We have held out as long as we could," Kyle Fischer is quoted as writing, according to the summary. "We will help you transfer to another operator as you see fit."
The Fischers also did not provide detailed financial statements "so that the board might understand the events and issues that have brought us to this point," wrote William C. Jones III, Redevelopment Agency chairman, in a Feb. 27 letter to the Fischers.
The Fischers, he wrote, also displayed a lack of frank communication to the agency about Downey Street's inability to fulfill the terms of their lease agreement "until the situation deteriorated to this level."
Fischer disputed the characterization: "We jumped through every hoop they set for us, and we have been forthcoming.
"We're holding on. We're plugging away."
Reach Angela Woodall at 510-208-6413 or email@example.com.