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A Movie Theater in your Community
May 1, 2008

We received an email recently from a visitor to our site from Vicksburg, Mississippi. The writer reminded us that the local movie theater is still an important part of everyday life in a community. While we have focused on the historic significance of a movie theater, we wanted to comment on the role movie theaters play in our contemporary communities.

The contemporary small town movie theater still provides entertainment. It still provides a place where people can socialize. It offers us an opportunity to get out of our living rooms for an evening. It offers a place for young people to gather. Compared to the local movie theater of fifty or sixty years ago, it does seem to come up short when it comes to providing enrichment, news, variety, and value.

We're not suggesting a return to "those glorious days of yester-year." Times have changed. But, we do have a thought or two we want to share. Drawing on what we have learned from the history of movie theaters in small communities, we offer some suggestions that could work in today's complex culture.

If a movie theater is a valuable part of a community, why can't that community share in the process? Relying on a large national corporation to run a movie theater isn't going to work. Large theater chains, like Regal Entertainment Group, make their decisions based on their return on investment. Small communities just don't provide the volume in ticket sales to produce an acceptable profit. If a small community is to have a successful local movie theater, it will have to approach the matter with some imagination. And, yes, it will have to make a financial commitment to the project.

Many small communities, like Vicksburg, Mississippi, have a three or four-screen theater in a shopping mall. Many, like the Pembroke 4 Cinema, have closed. It is unlikely that someone will reopen the theater based on the contemporary business model. First-run film rental is expensive. Maintenance of fixtures and equipment is expensive. Rent is expensive. Those of you in this situation know the numbers. So, what if you take a different approach? What if you purchase or lease the theater as part of the community's recreation program?

Before you shake your head and roll your eyes, consider the possibilities. Not all screening rooms have to be showing a movie. One could be used for community meetings, lectures, discussions and demonstrations. One could be exhibiting alternative programs or classic films. One could run a community orientation and history program for tourists and newcomers.

As a community, consider your return on investment. It would be safer to have your young people driving a few blocks to the local theater than driving thirty miles away to see a movie. Draw on your community resources. Involve these young people in the process of programming and operating the theater. Draw on the older people in your community who have time to volunteer their time and wisdom.

Bringing people to a shopping mall is good for business. Ask local business to financially support the project. Increased numbers of people will translate into increased casual shoppers at their retail shops and restaurants. Take a fresh look at what the words "return" and "investment" mean to you as a community. Focus on the positive.

We cannot offer a successful community project like this as an example. So, if you know of one, let us know and we'll post it on our site. If you organize such a program in your community, you will become the "example" for other communities to follow. Let us know and we will feature your community project on our site so that small communities in South Carolina can duplicate, and perhaps, improve on your success.

Nothing would please us more than to report on the revival of the small town movie theater.

Movie Theatres of South Carolina
Mark Tiedje and John Coles
1424 Moultrie Street
Mount Pleasant, SC 29464
(843) 881-2612
Email: info@scmovietheaters.com

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