Potbelly’s features independent films, quirky atmosphere

By Lindsay Imwold | gargoyle@flagler.edu
Photo by Kaitlyn Teabo
PHOTO CAPTION: Kenny Pierce is owner of Potbelly’s cinema plus. The cinema shows more unique films than the typical cinema.

Kenny Pierce owns Potbelly’s, a small cinema next to the Lightner Museum that has quite a history. Though the cinema has been around since before most Flagler students were born, its fan base is growing and shows no signs of slowing down.

“As a small independent business, you’ve got to try to do something different from other people,” Pierce said. Customers are greeted immediately by quirky ambiance and vintage décor. The walls are covered with toys, lunchboxes, bottles, posters and other utterly random collectibles from years past. Bikes, tricycles and model airplanes hang from the ceiling. Pierce walked to a shelf of cigarettes and pointed to a box from 1988 with George W. Bush Sr.’s campaign logo on it. He said that he’s always collected toy trucks and about 30 percent of the collectibles people have brought in to donate.

Potbelly’s, whose name was inspired by Pierce’s silhouette prior to losing 100-some pounds, is as relevant today as it ever was. It draws a well-sized audience because of the films it shows. Pierce has been airing cult and strange films for at least 10 years, but he’s always had an affinity for showing older, unique films alongside recent releases.

With the rise of digital technology and computer graphics, Pierce thinks that the art of studying acting is leaving the movie business. “I don’t know if acting will be there in 20 years,” he said. “All the little places doing what we’re doing helps keep it alive and the public aware.”

Travis Johnson, an employee of CD store Music Matters, agrees that cult, banned and old films should be preserved. He has loved nonmainstream cinema since he was a kid. Johnson and his friend Brandon Merkley established a series of screenings called “Quantum Peepshow” and “CULTure Shock.”

Most of the cult and banned films played at Potbelly’s today are part of “CULTure Shock,” and are never shown digitally, only in their original 16-35mm form from a projector.

Johnson said that Potbelly’s plays only “actual celluloid film, which makes a big difference” in terms of viewing experience. “The atmosphere is unique being in an old building, an atmosphere where people would originally experience these films. And they cost less, only $8.”

With competition from modern cinema, it’s important that Potbelly’s maintains it’s local appeal.

“There are very few independent cinemas left,” Johnson said. “Potbelly’s is the last one standing in St. Augustine.” But Johnson is motivated to promote both his and Merkley’s film series, to create a community of people more interested in satiric films to share titles. “Film is my main interest, and I’d like to encourage people to have screenings of their own,” he said.

Pierce said that Potbelly’s maintains its profit by drawing people in and standing out.

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