Friday, January 15, 2016

Farewell To A Childhood Film Theater


This post is going to be short, sweet, and personal, but a few weeks ago I found out that the closest movie theater to me -- which happens to be the main one I've been going to since I was a kid -- is closing for good; this weekend, as a matter of fact.

It's just a generic Showcase Cinemas; not a fancy independently operated theater or anything like that, but I'm disappointed just the same. For starters, it was incredibly convenient for me to get to -- just 15 minutes away on the regular back roads in the town next to mine. The ticket prices have always been cheaper than nearby competing chains. And I loved the fact that there was always plenty of parking up close to the entrance because it wasn't a busy theater...but unfortunately that's also the same reason why it's closing. Attendance had dropped off in recent years as people have been going to a newer Loews theater in a shopping center a bit up the highway. But I'm going to miss this theater.

I saw everything there from The Empire Strikes Back to E.T., Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, James Bond movies, and all of the Indiana Jones ones. In fact, my first vivid movie memory happened there when my brother took me to see Jaws in 1976. I was only three and a half years old but what I remember most other than the movie itself (which I loved; I wasn't scared at all) were all of the Jaws toys and promotional items being sold in the lobby, something that doesn't happen today. (My brother bought me an orange rubber toy shark that I put in my backyard wading pool the next day.)

In high school, it was where my friends and I would go on half days followed (or preceded by) lunch at Denny's next door.

Construction of the original 1-6 theater side in 1964. Photo credit: James V. Roy at pbase.com
I found out that the theater was built in 1965 and two of the first films screened there were In Harms Way starting John Wayne, and The Train with Burt Lancaster. Theater one was the only one of its kind in the area because it could screen both 70mm as well as 35 mm film. By the 1980s this particular movie theater actually consisted of two buildings; the original, on one side of the main drag, showed movies 1-6. The second structure, across the street, was constructed to accommodate movies 7-14 as well as viewer demand.

Then, in 2008, the original 1-6 side was shut down and stadium seating was added to all of the theaters on the newer side (another reason why I loved it, because my legs and knees suffer in a more cramped Showcase in another town that has really outdated seating.) They also improved the sound system and size of the screens.

The last film I saw there was The Peanuts Movie (two thumbs way up, by the way) and there was a substantial crowd in the theater, including men with their kids, which was surprising given the Pats were playing that afternoon. But not long ago an older woman from my church that's friendly with my mother and her friends told us the last time she went to see a movie there, she was only person in attendance. She felt creeped out about being alone in a dark theater and left. The ticket attendee told her more people were favoring the Loews.

And it's not that I have anything against Loews; the one people are flocking to features big reclining seats, something I definitely appreciate. But it costs more, and the theaters themselves are smaller, and I'm not thrilled at the idea of driving on the highway to get there. The other Showcase is pretty big and has plenty of parking, but like I mentioned they really need to update the actual theaters and make them bigger and more comfortable. And I guess it's just the stab of knowing another place from childhood is soon to be gone, joining the likes of the local five-and-dime store and a favorite restaurant my parents and I went to often that disappeared years ago.

I'll be curious to know what will become of both buildings eventually; will they be knocked down and something new built in their place(s)? Probably likely...but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that perhaps a different movie chain will look into taking them over and resurrecting them so that they can compete with the others nearby.

Either way, the screens go dark -- for now -- this Sunday. :(

4 comments:

  1. You must live in my vicinity as you exactly described the Showcase Cinemas in my neck of the woods.

    I felt bad when I heard it was closing but then I realized I hadn't been there in probably 10 years.

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  2. I remember the day back in my home town of Ottawa when I was walking down Rideau street, only to see that my beloved Rideau Theatre had been recently demolished, leaving a vacant area of rubble between the adjacent buildings! It was quite a shock, especially since I'd heard nothing in advance about it being slated to go. It greatly saddened me, as that was the theatre where most of the Disney features had played, before the multiplexes appeared on the scene. The Rideau was one of the last of the original movie palaces in Ottawa, and I used to love admiring the ornate interior structure. That was back when going to a movie was truly an event, and the experience was so much more exciting than it is today.

    I find I can't stomach the Cineplex chain, which is pretty much all we have up here in Canada now, as it's just a cacophony of loud rock music assaulting the senses in the theatre, lobby, and even the washrooms. And today's movies are no longer of interest to me either - loud, devoid of real colour, and laden with digital SFX, to the point where I'd really prefer to stay home and watch a DVD of a classic colour film from the 50s through 70s on my HDTV. Yeah, I'm getting old! :)

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    1. I hear ya, Pete. I haven't even seen the new Star Wars yet because I'm one of the few people who just hasn't gotten excited about seeing it, despite being a childhood fan. That's a shame about your town's theater. A few months ago I wrote an article for my freelancing gig about a really cool movie theater...in California, I think...that used to be a dance club so parts of the original interior are intact, and the theater freshly makes its own menu from scratch including pizza that reviewers said are out of this world and they provide over 30 flavored toppings to put on your popcorn. They also screen everything from the box office hits to independent movies made by local filmmakers. I kept thinking we need more of these types of theaters in the U.S., not the huge chains that overcharge you for popcorn that's way too salty.

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  3. Two words: Alamo Drafthouse.
    http://www.drafthouse.com

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