Theater future shaky
Published: November 8, 2012
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The digital age is threatening the future of historic movie houses in Pine Grove and Coaldale that celebrate nostalgia and run 35-millimeter film.
"The industry is going to stop making 35-millimeter projection film in the near future. There's not a here-today-gone-tomorrow date but I heard it might happen in the beginning of the year, and to upgrade to digital projection, it would cost us around $122,000," Louise H. Miller, manager of the Pine Grove Theatre, 213 S. Tulpehocken St., said.
On Sept. 17, Miller received a price quote from Entertainment Equipment, Buffalo, N.Y., for two Digital Cinema Project Systems for the Pine Grove Theatre's two screening rooms. The total came to $118,900.
"It was worse than I thought and that doesn't include shipping," Miller said.
"We're in the same situation. We don't know what the future holds," Michael Danchak, who co-owns Angela Triplex, Coaldale, with his wife, Deborah, said.
Danchak said it would cost him $150,000 to upgrade.
"It's like $50,000 per screen and we have three screens. It would push our operating costs up so high it wouldn't be feasible to operate, and they're forcing us to buy equipment that will be obsolete before it's paid off," Danchak said.
He and his wife bought the building at 113 E. Phillips St. in Coaldale from "G.S. Miller" for $500 in 1992, according to the online Schuylkill Parcel Locator. Then, the Danchaks did more than $100,000 in renovation work and opened in 1998.
The Triplex has three theaters, one has 240 seats and the two others have 101 seats each. On average, the theater sees 15,000 patrons a year.
Danchak is considering options for the theater's future and is open to talking with community groups.
"We're thinking of stage shows, bands, comedians and things like that," he said.
Louise Miller also manages The Strand, a movie theater in Hamburg, which is in a similar situation to the Pine Grove Theatre.
Its owner, Bill Rhoades, could not be reached for comment last week.
Miller said she's already having trouble finding 35-millimeter prints to screen.
"In September, the studios release less films because it's traditionally a very, very bad month for theaters industry-wide, and there were no film prints available. My booking agent both here and in Hamburg could not get prints of anything. So what they did was they brought back stuff I had already played, including 'Madagascar 3.' I had played that opening day in June and had it here for three weeks. So since there was nothing available, we brought 'Madagascar' back and I showed it free for that entire weekend because at least I'd be getting bodies in here and I figured I might have had a chance to make some money on concessions," Louise Miller said.
Looking ahead, she said she isn't sure if the Pine Grove Theatre will have a bright future in 2013.
"All I can say for now is I will stay open as long as we're running film. If I am fortunate enough to have the money raised to keep the movie theater open, that would be fabulous," she said.
Meanwhile, the movie theater at Schuylkill Mall, Frackville, is expanding. A $1.6-million project, the four-screen theater is being made into an eight-screen cinema called The Pearl Stadium 8. A contractor is in the process of adding 5,000 square feet to the 11,000-square-foot complex, Mark Clement, theater manager, and mall manager Elaine Maneval said earlier this month.
In an effort to save the Pine Grove Theatre, a citizens group called "Save the Theatre" assembled Oct. 9 and they were scheduled to hold a fundraiser on October 27 with a "Halloween Movie Spooktacular", according to Ann Tobias, Pine Grove, a member of Save the Theater.
The group met recently at the Hose, Hook & Ladder Company in Pine Grove. Its members include Genavieve Moyer, Schuylkill Haven, and Joelle Bretz, Angie Frank, Robyn Kopinetz, Robert L. Wolfe and Tobias' daughter, Lacey, all of Pine Grove.
"It's the only thing for children to do here in town, or even for adults who want to go out here and don't want to go to a bar," Lacey Tobias said.
"There really is no other cultural outlet in our community," Moyer said.
Ann Tobias said the group is in the process of setting up a bank account for donations and the group wants to hold monthly fundraisers.
The volunteer group views the theater as one of Pine Grove's historical treasures.
It was built in 1910 by Gregory Achenbach and was first The Hippodrome Theater, which was open for stage shows as well as films, according to the Pine Grove Theatre website at pinegrovetheatre.net.
"The name of the theater was shortened to the Hipp in 1935 after a refurbishing took place. It's possible that sound was added to the theater at that time. After being closed in the mid-50s, the theater was reopened after a complete reconstruction was done in late 1962," according to the site.
That's when the Hipp became The Pine Theatre, which closed in 1999, according to the site.
In January 2001, Miller and her husband, Douglas E., bought the building from The Pine Theatre Co. for $35,000, according to the online Schuylkill Parcel Locator.
The couple did more than $30,000 in renovation work and reopened it as the Pine Grove Theatre on April 13, 2001, according to Louise Miller.
Today, the Pine Grove Theatre has two screening rooms, one with 200 seats and the other with 38. Its decor includes pictures and artifacts from other former movie houses in Schuylkill County. For example, the ancient popcorn machine from The Ritz in Saint Clair is on display in the back of the larger screening room. Pictures of one of Pottsville's former cinemas, The Capitol, are framed and on the wall in the lobby.
The couple separated three years ago but Douglas Miller, 50, is still a co-owner. He could not be reached for comment.
Louise Miller, 55, said she is the only employee at the business and she runs it with the help of family and friends. The theater has an average of 13,000 patrons a year, she said.
Danchak said there isn't a community group forming to save the Angela Triplex.
'I'd be open to that but I'm highly doubtful it will happen. That's a lot of money to put out," Danchak said.
According to the website for the National Association of Theatre Owners at natoonline.org, in 2011, there were 39,580 movie screens in the United States. Broken down, that's 38,974 indoor screens and 606 drive-in screens.
"Digital cinema brings consistent quality to the movie-going experience - moviegoers will see the same crispness and clarity in the movie throughout the life of its exhibition," according to the association.
Digital projection is a cost-saving measure for studios and distributors that will save millions on the cost of film prints and shipping fees.
"No longer will they have to spend $1,500 to ship 35-millimeter prints in 80-pound film canisters. DCP (Digital Cinema Package) hard drives cost about $150 to ship," according to an August article on the website for The San Francisco Chronicle at sfgate.com.
The theater owners association estimated, however, that 10 to 20 percent of theaters may close rather than convert.