Revitalized Tahoe City cinema reinvents a night at the movies
Special to the Sun
TAHOE CITY, Calif. — The smell of salty, buttered popcorn trickles outside the front entrance as you file in, carefully selecting your seat — not too far back, not too close to the front.
You turn off your phone, chomp away at your giant bag of popcorn, and whisper to your date that you’re already breaking into your box of Whoppers.
For the next 90 minutes, you and everyone around you will leave behind the outside world and drift into what you hope will be pure entertainment.
It’s that time-honored joy mixed with a modern vision that inspired two couples to come together and breathe new life back into Tahoe City’s movie theater.
“The key thing is that we all have a passion for something in here,” said Steven Siig, co-owner of Tahoe Art Haus & Cinema. “Our passion for entertainment comes together in our passion for wanting to put Tahoe City back on the map as a spot for night-life and good, quality fun.”
A LOVE AFFAIR WITH FILM
As a longtime Tahoe resident and an avid ski industry filmmaker, Siig always dreamed of owning his own theater, but said he hadn’t given the idea much thought over the last decade.
Throughout the 90s, Siig worked as a landscaper to save money for the winter, when he would pack up his camera gear and travel the world with a crew of pro skiers and snowboarders in search of epic conditions and steep terrain.
Over time, Siig worked with big fish like Standard Films, Teton Gravity Research and Warren Miller. The lifestyle wasn’t putting food on the table, but it was feeding Siig’s soul.
That was until he lost his best friend in 2002 – skier and mountaineer, Aaron Martin – who took a fatal fall during a dangerous attempt to summit Alaska’s Mount St. Elias.
With a heavy heart, Siig withdrew from his career in cinematography and channeled his energy into his growing family and landscaping business.
WHEN OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS
Nearly a decade passed until Miller came knocking again.
“When you have a catalyst in your life that taps you on the shoulder and reminds you of what you love, it forces you to think twice,” Siig said. “When I started shooting again, I realized I really do love film, but that I wanted to play a different role, and Melissa (Steve’s wife) was really key in helping me figure out what that role was.”
During a visit with Melissa’s family in small-town Washington last Thanksgiving, Melissa suggested she and Steve set up an informational meeting with the local theater owner.
“In the 12 years I’ve known (Steven), he’s always coming up with big ideas, but this time, it felt just right,” Melissa said. “He’s a dreamer, but you have to dream big to accomplish anything great.”
Two months later, the lease became available at the old Cobblestone Theater in Tahoe City, and the couple scored front row seats to take it over.
After months of repairs — including renovations to the bathrooms, the lobby, the big screen and technical system, plus the addition of state-of-the-art seating and a few rows of couches — the owners opened in September to a max-capacity crowd.
As an added bonus, they’re also offering bottled and draft beer, bringing a unique taste to the movie theater experience.
“We wanted to open something that would not just do well, but would thrive and really give back to the community in a way that, I think, is truly needed,” said Mark Gogolewski, who co-owns the cinema with his wife and the Siigs.
The couples were introduced by their kids, and a friendship quickly formed, followed by a successful business partnership.
“We’re very different people, but we quickly realized we have very similar ideas on the possibilities that we can make happen here,” Mark said.
Comparing the new ownership to a savvy corporation, you might say Steven is the CEO – a plaid-shirt, cowboy-hat-wearing, ski-ripping, creative-type-of-CEO – who runs the day-to-day operations.
In that context, Melissa would then be the CFO, the marketing manager, the “organizational czar,” and the expert consultant on what parents want when it comes to movies and entertainment.
Mark wears the hat of music and entertainment specialist, utilizing his former Bay Area stomping grounds as inspiration to elevate the entertainment pool in Tahoe City. He’s also regarded as a sounding board, a problem solver, a strategist, and a technical junky by his cohorts.
Mark’s wife, Liz, is the silent partner, as well as the glue that brought them all together.
“We believe in a similar end goal, and we share the same dream for this place, so it all comes together in a super harmonious way,” Steven said.
A NEW VISION
The big screen has already hosted a handful of ski and snowboard films, weekly Throwback Thursday titles, a motley of Halloween flicks, plus dinner-and-a-movie nights featuring blockbusters paired with discounts at Zia Lina and Wolfdales.
To fulfill other niches, as well as offset the shortage of new releases — which have proven difficult to obtain from the motion picture association due to the small-town nature of the venue — the owners are building a live music lineup that will feature DJs, acoustic acts, rock bands, and more.
They’ve also teamed up with Alpenglow Sports to host its annual winter film series, an event that has packed the house with locals and offers a Q&A session to accompany the film.
“It will always be a cinema at its core, but I think the community wants a little bit of everything, so we have to tune ourselves into that and find our balance,” Melissa said.
Jenny Goldsmith is a North Tahoe-based freelance writer and a former reporter for the Sierra Sun newspaper. Have an idea for a merchant to feature? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.