The Movie Theater that Sells Clothes

The Rialto movie theater now serves as store space for Urban Outfitters in downtown Los Angeles. Photo by Kenny Chang.

The Broadway district in downtown Los Angeles is getting a new makeover. As the cinema industry transitions into multi-screen complexes, single screened theater owners are exploring alternative enterprises to occupy the vacant theaters. A handful of the historic theaters have managed to remain open by periodically hosting special screenings and accommodating live performances. However, the majority of theaters along the famous street have sought out other options. For example, Broadway has welcomed the arrival of a new church, the Ace Hotel, and most notably Urban Outfitters.

The Philadelphia-based retailer began restoring the 10,000 square foot Rialto Theater (est. 1917) back in 2013. While already characterized as a unique clothing store, Urban Outfitters affirmed its identity in choosing the facade that the old theater offers. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, property broker and local blogger Brigham Yen notes that “retailers are attracted to these unique spaces because it sets them apart from run-of-the-mill stores.” Clearly, the appearance and aesthetics of the theater are what mostly beckoned Urban Outfitters to the Broadway location.

Both the movie and retail industries share the common obstacle of evolving against the modern competition of the internet. The powerhouse Netflix, for example, enables customers to watch movies from the comfort of their homes through online streaming. Meanwhile, the influence of companies like eBay and Amazon has forced brick-and-mortar retailers to sell their products over the internet as well. To remain consistent with its vision of being unique, Urban Outfitters has expanded to have not only distinct products but distinct store locations as well.

Picking a location as unique as an antique movie theater certainly poses some issues. Namely, the 10,000 square feet provide a massive open space utilized as the selling floor. The combination of the already increased traffic and the large amount of space means that it is nearly impossible for the sales associates to manually track the customers as well as calculate a customer’s dwell time. With stores like Urban Outfitters gaining more and more traction in their unique brick-and-mortar stores, it is imperative that they implement an equally unique customer traffic counting device — one that counts traffic using various factors like audio, visual, or mobile fingerprinting on cellular devices, for example.

Although the Rialto Theater space requires solutions for a large store size, any retail store can benefit from automated analysis of customer traffic to fully maximize sales overall. All retail stores can be smart about not only understanding customer traffic but also showing customers how they’re unique.