Kim Bayles, owner of downtown’s Kimball’s Twin Peak theater, remembers when 18 movie screens in Colorado Springs closed in a single day.

“I was ready to close the Twin Peak at that point,” he said. “The opening of Tinseltown had hit us hard – but suddenly the tide turned, and we decided to stay.”

Business has stabilized, and Bayles has even considered expansion. Earlier this year, he considered opening a screening theater in adjacent vacant space that was formerly occupied by Insty-Print.

“The fire department nixed that because of lack of exits,” he said. “Fire codes on older buildings are tough – and theaters are always under extra scrutiny.”

The former Boulder resident and owner of a number of small businesses came to Colorado Springs in 1991 to visit long-time friend and customer, Richard Skorman.

“That’s how we got started,” Bayles said. “I’d always had a knack for small business and had run a combination expresso bar/bookstore, a restaurant, a disco and the Blue Note jazz club in Boulder.

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“Richard opened the Poor Richard’s theater but didn’t have the time to manage it. I joined him as theater manager and from there the business grew. We eventually moved to our current location on Pikes Peak Avenue.”

Though he’s a fan of downtown culture, he gives the city mixed reviews.

“The (Downtown) Partnership has done a lot to market and improve the appearance of downtown,” he said, “but we still give $10 parking tickets as punishment to anyone who wants to stay longer than an hour or two. That really hurts our business because customers worry they’ll get ticketed for attending a longer movie. Why doesn’t the city build a multi-level parking garage across the street so more visitors could enjoy what we all have to offer?”

A proponent of promoting downtown to national retailers such as Banana Republic or Office Depot, Bayles welcomes competition. “We should welcome any company that makes downtown a destination,” he said. “Someday the new convention center may decide to build a multiplex theater. That would be hard on us, but in the long run, it would benefit our core business community.”

Sensitive to the sound systems and amenities of more glamorous multiplex theaters in Colorado Springs’ north, south and eastern neighborhoods, Bayles keeps ticket and concession prices just under those of the large chains.

He admits he has been attracted to communities where city government is friendlier to small businesses – and is working with an investor group on a three-screen independent film theater in downtown Santa Fe, N.M. “We’ve gotten such great cooperation so far,” he said.

Bayles said he is committed to keeping his Colorado Springs operation open. He also is part-owner of a specialty auto dealership at Powers Boulevard and Galley Road that sells and acquires high-end American and European vehicles.

While the Kimball’s Twin Peak profiles as an independent and “art” movie theater, some of its biggest seat-fillers have been blockbusters.

“I’ll never forget when ‘Independence Day’ opened in July 1997. Every seat in the house was filled for a week,” he said. “It was the biggest all-time ever film for us, followed by ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ in 2002. ‘Greek Wedding’ was a solid play for four months – one of our best runs ever. We were able to start construction on a new home, thanks to that movie.”

As far as the day-to-day operation of the theater and adjoining wine bar, the proprietor says he staffs both primarily with students from Colorado College and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. “We offer a great first or part-time job for students – and they learn about the business as they’re working,” he said.

A good week for Kimball’s averages 3,000 to 3,500 patrons, who attend emerging films such as “Greek Wedding”, “Whale Rider” and “Monster”.

“I went to a premiere screening of “Monster” at Sundance and we had it showing before anyone else,” Bayles said. “I occasionally bring in a blockbuster, but try not to. Besides, there are some geographical restrictions on how many theaters may show some films so we may not even be able to get some of the early releases.”

Bayles remains optimistic about the future. He’s already been approached by Landmark Theaters of Denver to sell.

“So far it’s not happening,” he said, “but I might if the price was right. I just don’t want to sell to anyone who won’t continue to bring in good independent films and serve our niche market.”