Hot seats: Ticket-seekers sweating for the Paramount

It wasn't the Rolling Stones, but avid performance-goers began lining up at 7:15am, nearly three hours before the first tickets to the Paramount Theater's fall season would slide under the little glass window. At 10:04am on Monday, July 25, when the doors finally opened, the 94-person line snaked past the Central Place fountain to the edge of the Wachovia Tower.

"There are a lot of happy people here," said Michelle Conner of radio station Z95, which was handing out soft drinks and bottled water to keep everyone happy.

But not everyone was happy. "I've been standing here ringing and ringing," said Donna Lambert, who was hedging her bets by dialing the ticket line on her cell phone, "but you can't get through."

Inside the box office, three clerks (two for walk-ups; one for phone) processed orders for shows such as Bill Cosby, Yo-Yo Ma, and Hall & Oates.

"We'd like to see the Temptations," said Mark Mincer, "but it's a national holiday, Super Bowl Sunday." Mincer, an early arrival, quickly realized that this was going to be a long day. By his digital watch, it took 11 minutes to process one man's order. The average was five.

As the hours dragged on, many bailed in the 90-plus-degree heat. By 2pm, Paramount officials devised a new system: they issued numbers and let buyers hang out in the air-conditioned ballroom. And Theater director Chad Hershner had the bright idea to distribute free passes to the Paramount's classic movie series. (The film that screened a day earlier, still touted on the marquee, was Marilyn Monroe's Some Like it Hot.)

"We thought we'd have a little line," said Hershner. "It exceeded all our expectations."

Although Hershner personally avoided most of the sweltering, he says his day lasted until past 11pm, as the staff continued to process orders. Internet orders clicked along at the rate of up to 10 per minute, he says. Next year, he envisions giving preference to mail-in orders.

In December, after 30 years dust, dark, and mold, the palatial theater (which originally opened in 1931) reopened in December after a $14 million renovation. Expectations were high, but Monday's sale seemed to bolster hopes for the enterprise.

Hershner reports over $500,000 in ticket requests on the first day, with one event, the concert by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, already sold out, except for the $250 and $500 seats.

And the initial sale is for Paramount members only. The general public sale won't begin until August 15. What a difference a year makes.

"I went and bought tickets on the first day last year, and there was no one," said Sue Sharon. "I had my choice of front row seats for everything." She finally got her tickets this year– after 5pm.

94 people in 94-degree weather.