I’ve mentioned before that I grew up in Kent, Washington. It was a middling-sized town of 15,000 people way back then, and I rather like small town living, but I didn’t like Kent, and I can trace my dislike to one specific event.
The town had a classic movie theater, the Vale. As a kid, I loved that theater: we’d go out of our way on our walk home from school to check out the movie posters, anticipating the shows we’d see on the Saturday matinee. It was not an upscale theater, and we got a steady diet of “B” horror movie features — stuff like Die, Monster, Die and Frankenstein Conquers the World and every Japanese rubber monster movie ever made. They’d also show other stuff for our parents — I recall that Elvis movies were popular, and my parents took me to see The Hank Williams Story there — but really, it was the place in town that fed kids’ imaginations. Saturdays, a bag of popcorn, a mob of friends, and the wolfman on the screen? Paradise.
And then it went out of business, the town tore it down, and put up a bank in its place. That was the trend for quite a few years of my youth in that town—small businesses were flattened downtown, and a succession of banks and gas stations were erected everywhere. It was hostile and inhuman and not a good place to grow up. It was a place for people in cars with money to shuttle their cash around.
Anyway, I had a painful flashback last week. Morris also has a small, classic, single-screen theater, to which I regularly make a pilgrimage. Even when they show complete crap (hey! just like my childhood theater!) I go to enjoy the experience … and yes, I saw the Transformers movie, bad as it was, but it was still fun to sit there with an enthusiastic crowd of kids. It’s been struggling, like many small theaters, and it was put up for sale. That was dreadful in itself, but then we heard an offer had been made for it.
By a church. Not just any church, but one of those annoying random evangelical cultie churches, conservative as heck, but with a fervent congregation and apparently, more money than god or sense. They offered to buy it outright, and had every penny on hand.
As awful as Kent was, at least they didn’t replace everything in town with a church. Morris has got 14 or 15 churches as it is—the last thing we need is another parasitic institution that contributes nothing to the tax base and encourages further ignorance in the population. This could have been a nightmare.
Fortunately, though, a whole lot of people got together and dug into their wallets and put together a community consortium that made a counter-offer, promising to maintain the place as a theater … and that offer was accepted. Morris will be maintaining a first-run movie theater for at least some time to come!
Realistically, there’s still a lot of struggle to come. In these days of DVD players and home theater systems, it’s hard to keep a small movie house profitable, and this one also needs some extensive renovation and perhaps a little radical diversification to make it a destination of wider interest. We have an enthusiastic and ambitious steering committee (I’m not on it) at work right now to put together a plan—I’ll be contributing what I can to their efforts.
It’s also just great to see a community come together and work to preserve this special element of the town.