Saturday, August 25, 2012

We're About to Lose 1,000 Small Theaters That Can't Go Digital

Resort Towns Face a Last Picture Show*
We're About to Lose 1,000 Small Theaters That Can't Go Digital: Resort Towns Face a Last Picture Show
from There are nicer and newer movie theaters than the Strand 5 on the boardwalk here on the Jersey Shore. The sound is uneven, and the auditoriums haven’t been renovated in decades.

But the Strand does have history. It opened as a one-screen movie house in August 1938, and nearly 75 years later the cinema, now a five-screen multiplex, is still serving exiled beachgoers. But for how long?

As a woman in a black bikini and white cover-up flip-flopped into “The Dark Knight Rises” one afternoon this month, the ticket taker, Shelby Fogarty, struck a mournful tone, mindful that the Strand has been for sale for several years, and that management — the family-owned Frank theater chain — won’t say if the theater and its boardwalk neighbor, the Moorlyn Stadium 4, will reopen next season.

If they don’t, Ms. Fogarty, 20, whose family has been summering here since she was a baby, said the loss wouldn’t just be personal: “Time and again I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘I remember coming here when I was little, and it was only 15 cents to see a movie.’

All along the Jersey Shore, as well as from Montauk to Martha’s Vineyard — indeed in just about any area in the country where mom-and-pop theaters still survive — old movie houses like the Strand are faced with a live-or-die proposition this Labor Day. In an already unsparing economy, and with entertainment rivals multiplying with every new tablet and flat screen, movie theaters are being asked to invest in costly digital projectors just to stay open.

According to recent industry statements, the major Hollywood studios are planning to complete the switch to digital by ceasing to release 35-millimeter film altogether; 20th Century Fox promises to phase out film by the end of next year, and the others are expected to follow. Which means that the analog projectors that have whirred along for decades will be suddenly rendered incapable of playing modern movies. For many seasonal theaters, the dog days of this summer may be the only days they have left.

Though his theater will probably adjust, John Esposito, the owner of the Beach Cinema in Bradley Beach, N.J., warned, “America’s going to lose a lot of its past because of this.

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