The Tropic Cinema story begins in the late 1990’s when a group of cinephiles in Key West, Florida, longing for alternatives to the one corporate movie theater in town, came together to provide Indie films. They hosted showings all over the island — private homes, warehouses and other accomodations. With the help of serious funding by Key West Film Society members, the search began for a building, film distributors and projection equipment with “up-to-the-minute” technology. They found space in a former McCory five-and-dime. Later they expanded into commercial space next door.
The website shares, “The Tropic Cinema opened its doors in Old Town Key West in 2004. We had one simple idea: to bring quality movies to people who longed for something more than Hollywood blockbusters. Our artistically diverse island community deserved to see amazing independent films, international favorites and cinematic classics — film that appealed to folks who value going beyond the usual.”
Voted Florida’s Best Cinema numerous times, Tropic is South Florida’s only nonprofit multiplex.
The 300-seat, four-screen venue grew into a “cultural hub” making space available for live concerts, political forums, lectures, private parties, an art gallery – even weddings.
Around 3,000 memberships are sold each year. This effort covers 15% of the budget. To become a valued member, the minimum charge is $35. An annual donation of $350 for the Tropic Premium level includes a year’s worth of free tickets for feature films. These members also receive a 20% discount for dinner at participating local restaurants. Key West benefits plenty from The Tropic’s attraction of 75,000 guests a year to downtown by foot or bike.
The Tropic concessions are none too shabby. From wines and champagne (changed seasonally), domestic, local and imported beer to Camembert and brie cheeses, to gourmet snacks and Ghirardelli chocolate chip cookies. The Miami Herald touts its seasoned popcorn as the best. The concession stand also provides gourmet drinks and juices. If you’re a traditionalist, there are plenty of popular sodas and candy – even the universal movie theater staple, Junior Mints.
The four-plex is managed by a small paid staff and governed by a volunteer board of directors. The box office and concessions are manned by a corps of volunteers that numbers more than 120 people. These efforts save the organization a considerable amount of labor cost throughout the year.
The final touch is a full-scale statue of Marilyn Monroe by Seward Johnson near the entrance. She’s depicted in the air grate scene of “The Seven Year Itch.” You can’t miss her – she’s a selfie magnet for more than just Tropic movie-goers.
This amazing cinematheque chooses Easy-Ware to handle its POS operations. The program Art House Cinema Solutions provides the most thorough cash flow management in the non-profit cinema and performing art markets. Quick box office, concession and donation transactions with real-time reporting capabilities. It also produces marketing opportunities at the click of a button. The online and mobile device ticketing is handled by Diamond Ticketing Systems, a pioneer in the industry.
Executive Director Paul Melroy says, “Over the years the community has been truly supportive of Tropic Cinema. Fundraising is always a challenge for small non-profits and we’ve been fortunate to receive consistent funding. “We have defied anybody’s reasonable expectations by surviving more than a decade.“
And speaking of survival, the Tropic found Hurricane Irma at its doorstep on 9/11/17. Here’s a statement Melroy posted on facebook on September 12th: “I am pleased to tell you that I have had contact with Tropic Cinema’s Theater Manager, Lori Reid, and can affirm to you that the Tropic appears to be in good shape. Lori rode out the storm in Key West, along with a couple of other staff members, and reports that they are all okay, too…We should be able to get up and running when Key West is ready to get up and running. We’ll be anxious to have our volunteers return to town. We sincerely hope that everyone was able to stay safe.”
Although Irma didn’t hit Key West directly, hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed in the Keys. Then on September 12th the Tropic’s facebook post read: “We made it!” From the Tropic’s website the latest news read: “Tropic Cinema is open! And don’t worry: Marilyn is fine!”
Let’s close with a quote from former director Matthew Helmerich, “The Tropic Cinema is the greatest place to come for the movies in this part of the world.”