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Lower Merion flashback: Skunks and sabotage in the small-theater business

In the 1980s, a rivalry between the Bala Theatre and the Narberth Theatre threatened to turn downright nasty. The Bala's owner was convicted of hiring a man to put skunk oil all over Narberth's seats.

The current dispute over the Bala Theatre may be heated, but at least it doesn't stink.  In the 1980s, a rivalry between the Bala Theatre and the Narberth Theatre got so bad that one owner resorted to skunks and sabotage

The two theaters opened just a year apart, in 1926 and 1927.  The Bala is Egyptian-style, the Narberth is Art Deco. Both are historic and both are cornerstones of their walkable small-business districts.  At times, they have competed for the same customers, creating something of a rivalry.

"He said if we didn't want to 'split product' with him, that he was going to put us out of business," Greg Wax said in a 1987 Inquirer article.

According to federal court testimony, Fox asked his friend -- a Philadelphia City Councilman -- to have someone to spread skunk oil all over Narberth's seats.  Unbeknownst to the schemers, the councilman was under investigation by the FBI at the time, and the aide they asked to carry out the dirty deed was working as an informant.

"It was never carried out," Wax said in the article.  "But a lot of people heard about it and thought that it was, and we lost a lot of business on account of it."

Fox was convicted in federal court of conspiracy and attempted extortion.

"I am sorry I ever did this," he testified in March 1987.  "I was thinking in terms of a practical joke."

The Bala's current owner, Isaak Sotolidis, is in no way affiliated with Fox, and denies that any rivalry exists between the two theaters.