In the heat of a July afternoon, myself and a couple other boys mounted our bicycles and headed to a local gas station. In front of the gas station sat a chiller cooler. The cooler was filled with chilled water which circulated and made cold the many bottles of soft drink that sat, waiting to be pulled out of a labyrinth of slots and then provide a quenching of thirst on a July day. I was a Pepsi man, and I somehow gotten money to buy a soft drink. Each of us took our turn in choosing our drink of choice after putting the money into the coin slot. When my turn came I reached in grabbed a Pepsi, why hand gotten wet as it slid the bottle down the metal grates until I could pull it out.
As I pulled it out the midday sun highlighted the beads of moisture that were forming and dripping down this icy cold crucible. I popped the top on the side of the machine where stood an embedded bottle opener. With deep anticipation the cold liquid hit my lips as I raised the bottle. I took my first swallow. I planted myself down on the curb in front of the gas station. Silently my friends and I drink. Once in awhile casting quick glances at one another. Our hands cold and moist from the bottle, we were oblivious to that slight discomfort. We had sought our prey, captured it and shared in the victory with friends.
In all my history, I have never consumed a drink which result in so much satisfaction than I did that July afternoon. There was a truth in that experience. It was authentic.
That term authentic is something that really motivates me to write this weekly essay of the perils that moviegoing faces. I have experienced movie going and I firmly realize what has been lost. I do not think though that I am alone in grieve a bit for what moviegoing meant for some people.
Authentic is something Millennials and Gen Z ‘s craves. They are exceedingly cautious regarding products and services that do not ring to them. Movie going is one experience that as of late Millennials have cast a disparaging eye on. They know in the past it was more truthful in its intent and in its offering than it is now. In many ways they are looking for experience that only single or triple screens could offer. They are looking for experiences that reflect the intent of both the moviemaker and the tradition they are attempting to serve.
They know at one time, moving going was a reliable and constant form of entertainment. It was a tool for aggregating people and creating a genuine commerce. In many ways they resent the lack of access to authentic moving going but do not really know why.
At one time in our not too distant past movie going and the downtown used to be as synonymous with each other as peas and carrots. The downtown was the destination point of both large and small cities, and with the movie theatre beat the very heart of the downtown. It was not a coincidence that as movie theaters moved to the suburbs, the downtown cores began to collapse. You removed the movie theaters, you removed the people.
For more than hundred years, the movie theater has proven to be a focal point in every city and a place where all ages and classes can come together to experience the same feeling of wonderment and escapism that motion pictures provide. These small towns have recognized the significance of having a local theater the community can call their own. The impact and importance of the performing arts on the cultural and economic life of American cities has been felt since the very first theater and vaudeville houses sprung up on Main Streets throughout the country.
Unchecked development has left many small towns with a downtown core that suffers from stagnation and blight. Some intelligent community activists having taken notice of this and have started taking action to bring back the moviegoing experience back to the downtown core. In many cities many civic officials have started implementing various urban renewal programs which provide small-business owners with incentives to push development in their own historic downtowns. The Mainstreet USA Program is one of many of these innovative programs. It turns out that movie theatres are the perfect engine for economic growth and sensible urban development in small centers. They provide one of the few sources of communal entertainment. They aggregate large crowds that are necessary to support vibrant commerce, diverse businesses and interests, and establish the strong communities and cultures that once defined America’s small towns.
The historic theaters that remain from the pre- and post-World War II eras, as well as those from the mid-20th century, represent amazing examples of some of the best architectural work of the day, by some of the most heralded architects of their time. Many communities have embraced their historic theaters, recognizing their social and economic value. Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Cleveland and New York City are terrific examples of what’s possible when historic theaters are preserved and operated professionally, evident in both the quality of life in those cities and the economic benefit derived from their operations.
Investing in historic theaters, as with any worthwhile institution or venture, requires vision, planning and commitment. The too often used phrase “it takes a village” is no stretch when thinking about the groups of individuals needed to make theaters viable. Showmen and women, community leaders, politicians and volunteers are critical to the success of fundraising, operating, programming and maintaining a motion picture theater. When a community’s residents become collectively invested in historically important buildings such as movie theaters, there is a clear pride of place that follows.
In the case of the revived movie theaters people can realize again the benefit and joy of authentic movie going. They see a movie as the way it should be seen, on a large screen in solid auditorium seating. They are drawn to this experience because it is authentic. Word of mouth takes place more people embrace or re-adopt the movie going experience. The downtown core becomes vital again/ Someone has worked hard to put the heart back into their town or cities downtown core.
I get little joy from seeing a movie at a multiplex, it is a manufactured and false environment. When I visit a theater like the Historic Artcraft Theatre, I know I am seeing something very true and very authentic. I also know I am strengthening the heart of my community…. it’s downtown movie theater.