When the marquee light dimmed at the Wheaton Montgomery Royal Theatre in September, there was more behind the closing than slow business. Owner Sunil Maximus Martinus said that erroneous $123,000 electric bills from Pepco played a major role.
On April 12, 2011, Montgomery Royal Theatres Inc. filed a complaint with the Maryland Public Service Commission, writing that Pepco had sent it an incorrect bill and had admitted to using the wrong location and meter number in issuing the theater’s bill.
Pepco had sent the company a bill for $123,342.56 on June 7, 2010, according to the formal complaint. Lawyers representing the theater wrote they believed the errors were “either an outright mistake, or that my client is actually being charged for the power service for the previous customer, namely Draft House Cinemas,” which formerly ran the theater.
Pepco determined during the settlement process that the correct amount was $87,323.72 for the period from Jan. 5, 2009, to Oct. 30, 2012, which the theater disputed, according to the settlement between the companies. The final agreed upon amount was $48,000, to be paid in installments of $1,000 per month for 48 months.
In response to requests for comment, Pepco representatives said that privacy regulations prohibit the company from discussing customer accounts.
Although the bill was significantly reduced, Martinus said that two-and-a-half years fighting Pepco on the bill had racked up lawyer fees. He said he could no longer afford to run the business between the cost of the lawyer, the payments agreed upon in the settlement and the ongoing costs of operation.
Martinus also attributed a heart attack to the stress of settling the bill, which came with a bill of its own, from the hospital.
The lawyer, Stuart Lipshutz of Blank & Moorstein, could not be reached for comment.
The theater has had a lot of turnover in ownership in recent years. Before Martinus began leasing the space about four years ago, Draft House Cinemas had operated it for several months in 2008. Martinus worked for both P&G Wheaton Theatre Corp, and Draft House Cinemas, both of which leased the space from Westfield before Martinus.
Ken Buckner, marketing director for Westfield Wheaton mall, where the theater is, said the mall has been in discussions with larger theater operators who may take over the space. Many small theater operators are struggling with a switch by the film industry to digital projection from 35 mm film — a large expense that may leave many small companies behind, he said.
Martinus said that the new format was not a factor in closing his business. The industry-mandated change takes effect at the end of 2013, he said.