Residents living near the Majestic 20 at Ellsworth and Fenton are getting nervous about later showings at the movie theatre. Some say it'll bring more crime to their neighborhoods, while others see it as the next step in Downtown Silver Spring's evolution as an arts and entertainment center.
A listing of movie showtimes for tonight reveals no fewer than nineteen movies starting after 10pm. That includes two showings of the new Matt Damon/Morgan Freeman film Invictus, four showings of action movie Avatar, and for some reason, three showings of the new Disney movie Princess and the Frog. The latest movie is a 12:20am showing of Ninja Assassin, which ends around 2am.
Elaine Ellis, who's lived in neighboring Seven Oaks since 1983, is concerned about the kind of people coming to the Majestic's late movies. "You have to wonder if this helpful for a Safe Silver Spring?" she asked on her neighborhood listserv. "Do late shows bring more transients to our neighborhoods? Is there a link between late show transients and crime in our streets?"
Jennifer Nettles, marketing director for the Downtown Silver Spring complex, says Majestic's "been running later movies for a while now" and they haven't seen an increase in crime. "[We] are in constant communication with Majestic about security," she wrote us in an e-mail, noting that the area around Ellsworth and Fenton is patrolled 24 hours a day. "There have been other businesses also open within our property and City Place [Mall] during these same hours," Nettles adds.
Most local theatres do have late-night showings. The Majestic has more screenings than other Regal theatres including the Rockville Center 13 and Royale 14 in Hyattsville, which have eight and six late shows, respectively. But they're in neighborhoods with few other activities going on after 10pm, meaning there's little reason for the theatre to be open later.
But compared to theatres in areas with more evening activities, the Majestic isn't unusual. The United Artists Bethesda 10 has eight late shows, the Gallery Place 14 in the District has fourteen, and the Rio 18 in Gaithersburg has eighteen - still less than the Majestic, but it's the same proportion of movies relative to the number of screens.
There's no escaping the fact that Silver Spring has become a center for nightlife. There are a growing number of bars and nightclubs open after midnight. There are live performances at the Round House Theater and soon at the Montgomery College Performing Arts Center. And if we're lucky, we'll have a brand-new Fillmore music hall in a couple of years.
On the listserv, resident James Ehrman wondered if there was an upside to more late-night activity in Downtown. "Do moviegoers attending these very-late evening showings -- once they exit and are on the street -- tend to be persons whose presence helps dissuade criminal activity," he wrote, "or do they tend to be younger and, possibly, intoxicated elements likelier to cause problems?"
Increasing the number of safe, legal things to do here after dark is the way to make Downtown safer. After all, giving people legitimate reasons to go Downtown mean there are fewer places for crimes to happen unseen. Not to mention that having more "adult" activities in Downtown like the Round House and the Performing Arts Center will draw a more mature crowd that'll set the example for younger people (younger people like me) who go to bars or movies at the Majestic.
Between the fights that broke out on Ellsworth Drive in March and a shooting outside City Place during rush hour last month, it's not surprising that people are nervous about crime in Downtown. But those events were the exception, not the rule. We should continue to encourage more evening activities, because empty streets can be more dangerous than busy ones. The party's already started in Silver Spring, and there's no stopping it now.