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Jewish World Review May 27, 2003 / 25 Iyar 5763

Steve Young

Steve Young
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Consumer Reports

No popcorn refills? What's next, no stealing Sweet & Low? | Eclipsed by the headlines of war, by protesting movie stars and by an ever-struggling economy, is perhaps the most economically debilitating news for the movie-going public.

Many AMC Theaters have stopped giving free refills with the purchase of a large popcorn. It seems that with the wholesale cost of popcorn at about 25 cents a silo, AMC felt that giving complimentary to a customer who paid around $5 for the first bag was hurting the bottom line. After all, with theater admissions closing in on double figures and a twelve ounce soda going for about the price you can buy a 24 pack at 7/11, AMC must be truly suffering.

I, for one, have personally felt the pain. One day, many years ago, I purchased a large popcorn with a signage promise of a free refill. To be frank, the guarantee did explain that the refill must be completed the same day as the original purchase.

But sometimes I would become confused and use the bag for another day's refill. In fact I would get confused a lot. Still, what if were another day. A re-fill's a refill, right? And the cost to AMC would still be the same. The fact that I would have to approach the concession stand, appearing not to have just walked into the theater, concealing the fear of my transgression being discovered, making the extrication of the smuggled bag from my coat go undetected and performing well enough at the counter that all concerned would believe I had purchased the popped corn that day, all seemed to make a non-same-day refill a fair exchange. Of course, if I then brought the same empty back for free-refills, day after day, week after week, ad infinitum until that particular bag would fray and eventually disintegrate, what be the harm?

Then, one day, it seems that AMC decided that too many of their patrons had become "confused" so they began to instruct the concessionaires to mark the bag so that it could not be used for more than one refill. I felt that was fair, that is until I found that whiting out the mark was near impossible. But, alas, I was forced to accept the new AMC edict...and adjust my strategy.

I would hand the bag to the youngest, most easily distracted concessionaire, talking to him or her while they were filling the bag, asking for a cup with ice only (to be used for the soda my wife smuggled in), and more times than not, I succeeded. Soon after I noticed that my easy marks behind the counter were no longer employed and AMC's refill training methods seemed to have been shored up. Marking bags was now a given. Fair enough. Sometimes you have to accept the inevitable. Then again, sometimes you don't.

Remaining in the theaters after the film, watching the credits so people would think that I was film-savvy enough to recognize which best-boy was being used on that particular film, was now replaced by a search for unmarked bags that weren't drenched in kiddie-drool. At least it was better than foraging through the theater trash for the unmarked refill prize, which I began doing the following week.

But now it seems that my closet full of large, unmarked AMC popcorn bags, will go for naught. AMC has banged the final nail into the refill coffin. They have decided that profits supercede customer cunning and family budget demands. I for one think it's a bad move. But obviously AMC feels differently. Don't be surprised that if soon there'll be Diet Coke can, store bought candy and bologna-on-white detectors placed at all theater entrances.

I can only think of one thing worse. Heaven forbid United Artist theaters reads this.

JWR contributor Steve Young, Prism Award winner and Humanitas Prize nominee for his television writing, is contributing editor at the Writers Guild of America's "Written By" magazine. He is the author of "Great Failures of the Extremely Successful: Mistakes, Adversity, Failure and Other Stepping Stones to Success," "The 130 Tales of Winchell Mink," Harper Collins (Winter, 2003) and the director/writer of "My Dinner With Ovitz." His website is Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Steve Young