Just over four years after opening at 45 S. French Broad Ave., Grail Moviehouse is moving to a new home. Owners Davida Horwitz and Steve White will announce the exact location once a lease is signed but plan to stick with a three-screen layout, possibly growing to four, and guarantee free parking.
Horwitz and White had been considering a different spot for a while, and as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, they say it became clear they had to decide between investing in their current space or expediting the relocation. The week of May 11, they chose the latter option, which will allow them to create a space designed for social distancing for as long as it is needed, rather than reopen to uncertainty in their current building.
“The partners that we would be dealing with — the property owners/landlords — are also enthusiastic about it, so we have a good feeling we’re going to make it work where we’re looking,” White says.
The Grail has been closed since March 16 but quickly entered into a revenue-share partnership with independent distributors, including Oscilloscope Laboratories and Kino Lorber, to offer digital rentals of new indie/art releases. While such films as Up from the Streets and Fantastic Fungi have performed well, Horwitz views the initiative as less of a revenue generator and more a means of giving their loyal patrons new movies in a curated manner.
“In the meantime, we’ll keep the virtual cinema as long as it’s going, and hopefully we can do pop-ups,” she says. “We don’t know if that would be a once-a-month situation or more often, but we’re definitely hoping to do stuff in the interim until we open up.”
These indoor screenings with safety measures in place would echo the path taken prior to opening the Grail, which included a showing of its namesake film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, at Asheville Community Theatre.
Looking back at their time on French Broad, the owners, who are also partners, fondly recall their children growing up in the theater, the employees they’ve stayed in touch with and the many instances of sitting in their office and hearing positive audience reactions to a film.
“While we were playing Cinema Paradiso that first week, and I could hear the music coming through, and I knew there were people sitting in there, watching that movie, and it was an emotional moment,” White says. “That first week, we were terrified. We didn’t know if it was gonna work, and it took a while to get it to the point where we were comfortable, because every day we would make little improvements.”
Horwitz concurs, adding: “Asheville is really so special. I don’t think that this could work in too many other places.”