Neighborhood Gem: The Broad Theater

After eight years in business, this neighborhood theater has proven itself a crowd pleaser.

Neighborhood movie theaters used to be commonplace, but they have been almost entirely replaced by suburban mega-plexes.

This did not deter Brian Knighten, owner and founder of The Broad Theater, from pursuing a dream for nearly two decades.

“I was at Katie’s restaurant, and I sat next to a couple talking about Movie Pitchers closing down,” recalled Knighten. This was 1999, when he was 23.

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“I talked to the owner,” he continued, “and he offered to give me three years’ worth of his books. Unfortunately, the books were awful. He was losing thousands of dollars a year. I took them to a bank, and they said, ‘You must be crazy!’”

Knighten looked into buying the theater, but the building was quickly torn down. The concept, however, stuck in his head.

Then, in 2014, 636 North Broad Street became available. The 1924 building had housed everything from a boxing gym to a boat store, but was empty when Knighten took it over, even down to dirt floors in some places. He did a complete rebuild, and The Broad Theater opened in March 2016.

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Knighten works hard to please his primarily neighborhood-based clientele.

“We try to hit all the different genres, to satisfy people’s needs,” he said.

This includes a mix of major releases — “Dune” being a recent example — as well as art house films such as “Poor Things” and “American Fiction.” Drawing from the sometimes-quirky Tremé and Mid-City customer base, it’s no surprise that those films attract more viewers.

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Still, the biggest challenge is getting the word out about these films, which generally have smaller promotional budgets from the studios.

“We select movies based on what we think is good and what will work, but conveying to people that a movie is worth seeing is difficult sometimes,” noted Knighten.

Social media and a weekly email blast are his primary marketing tools. Ticket sales account for about 30% of The Broad’s revenue, with concession sales (including a full bar) comprising most of the balance.

To help draw people in, Knighten partners regularly with a variety of nonprofit organizations, providing a theater and a film for these groups to use as fundraisers. Another community activity is hosting school field trips. Parties and event rentals also help fill the seats.

“Sometimes I feel like this business itself teeters on being a nonprofit because of all the community work we do,” Knighten observed, “but I think that really helps us connect with our customers.”

Another challenge is that the films must be booked from their distributors before any reviews come out. If those reviews are bad, Knighten is usually still stuck screening the films. Further complicating things is that the distributors control how long each movie must run, and sometimes how often it must be shown each day.

The theater is helped by its symbiotic relationship with Knighten’s more recent project, the Broadside concert venue. Launched as a place to host live outdoor music during the pandemic, it has recently expanded to include an indoor music and event space, hosting everything from weddings to fundraisers.

While attendance at The Broad Theater is still 20% below pre-pandemic levels, Knighten’s neighborhood connections and the constant stream of community events keep the operation viable.

“Working with all these organizations and showing as diverse programming as possible is what makes us a good neighbor and makes us successful,” he said. “My role is facilitating these good relationships.”


The Broad Theater 636 N. Broad St. // New Orleans
504-266-2366 // thebroadtheater.com // @BroadTheaterNOLA
@thebroadnola // @BroadNOLA

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