My husband heard this story on the radio yesterday about small town movie theaters and shared it with me because it hits close to home. We both grew up in a small town called Elsberry, MO where the Senate Theater was a treasure for us when we were little. It was the only Theater within 30+ minutes (an hour outside of St. Louis), so for some of us it was the only place we could go to watch movies.
This story was on St. Louis Public Radio and it discussed how small town theaters are facing major changes as film goes completely digital. No longer will there be actual ‘film’ for movies, it will all just be digital. The problem that most small places face is that the equipment to transfer costs $110,000. Sandra & Bob Sinnett (both in their 70s), who run the Senate Theater, had to use all their savings and put a loan on their home just to afford it. I had so many tears in my eyes just thinking about how they did this not only for themselves, but for all the families in our home town that wouldn’t have anywhere else to go to see movies. I know that some of you back home reading this may not have known, but they did.
“Parents may not have vehicles, may not have money for gas,” Rockwell says. “This is the spot, it’s right here in town. Most of our housing is right around this area, just a few streets up. If it wasn’t here, we wouldn’t have anywhere to go.” – Quote from ‘Small Movie Houses Face Digital Change St. Louis Public Radio
The studios say that this change is coming because it will save the industry $1 Billion a year in film / distribution costs and it may be wonderful for big chains, but for small towns it is going to cut right to the heart of something extremely precious to everyone. They don’t really have much of a choice though, they either have to change or shut down.
It has me remembering last year when I went for a walk in another small town we were living in and the $1 Theater that happened to be around the corner where my son spent his afternoons had closed up shop. I always wondered why. Why they would take that away from kids out in the middle of no where. A place where they could go and dream big, I guess now I know.
The Senate Theater had opened in the 1950s and in 1974 it was taken over by the Sinnett’s as a family business. Their children will one day take over for the new generation, just now it will be digital and instead of the click and hum of a film projector. I feel something is lost when we can’t hold onto our past, even a little bit.
I’m sharing this story with you because you may live in a small town and have one of these iconic theaters in your community. You may have went there as a child and heard stories of your parents and grandparents going to see movies right where you were sitting. It could be the place you snuck your first kiss, had your first date or saw your very first scary movie.
Please support your local theaters, see what you can do to help them out and keep them here for our children and grandchildren. It may not be a big deal in a big city where there are theaters on every block, but in small towns like Elsberry, MO it is the cost of our children’s imaginations, their dreams and hopes of something on the other side. Movies give pause to everything around us and let us briefly experience magic in the world.
I don’t believe it’s right to drive these small town theaters out of business if they can’t afford the change. I understand why it’s good for the industry, they should understand why it is good for our communities to let them live.
You can read the Sinnett’s family story on St. Louis Public Radio.