Sunday, December 26, 2021

Goodbye to Movie Theaters?

 In March 2020, when everything changed and contact with other people — especially crowds — became unsafe, we stopped going to movie theaters. As people became more confident in 2021, thanks to the Covid vaccine, some began going to theaters again — we didn’t. We weren’t alone: the theater business is very bad, and I think one of the big multiplex theaters in our town has gone out of business. Further, many new films are being released for one or another type of streaming viewers much earlier than they used to be. 

A few years ago, I wrote about my childhood movie memories, and I thought that would be a timely repeat today, for the end of the year and maybe the end of an era.

When we wanted to see a movie, we had to go to a movie theater. We could only choose from a few movies that were playing at the time.

There were two theaters near our house. They were named "The Varsity" and "The Tivoli." Some kids went to see a movie program every Saturday afternoon. Sometimes kids had birthday parties at the movie theater. Even Evelyn once had a movie birthday party, so this was a custom that lasted a long time.

The inside of the neighborhood movie theaters was pretty plain. The lobby had a big faded carpet, and a few glass cases of very expensive snacks. There was a big popcorn machine that tossed the popcorn around, and a soft-drink dispenser, but it wasn't fancy at all. Some kids liked popcorn, but my favorite snack at the movies was Junior Mints.

Downtown theaters showed new movies. These theaters were very, very fancy. The outsides sometimes had spotlights playing on the front. The marquee, which gave the name of the movie was also very impressive. To get to these theaters you had to take a long car ride or bus ride, so we hardly ever went to them.

Inside, the downtown theaters were like palaces. They had glass chandeliers and plush velvet seats. The lobbies where you entered had enormous staircases to go up to the balcony of the theater.

The railings were painted gold. The theater that I remember best had a small fish pond at the bottom of the stairs. Lenny reminded me that it was called "The Ambassador." It was alredy an old theater when I was a little girl. The two old postcards show the Ambassador.

Aunt Sadie took me, my cousin Marcia, Elaine, and other children to that theater to see Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland when it was a new movie. There were big cardboard cutouts of the characters standing in the lobby, but it was the fish pond in the lobby that impressed me the most. Besides candy and popcorn, they sold toys and things to do with the movie. Aunt Sadie bought us each a record of some of the songs from Alice. Instead of being black, these records were bright yellow, and we played them often after we came home.

Some of the palace-like movie theaters were restored and returned to use a number of years ago, and I don’t know what’s happening to them in these new and difficult times.

Blog post © 2006, 2021 mae sander.


DVArtist said...

Movies have always been apart of my life. My dad ran the reels from drive-in to drive-in. So we got to see them all for free. We do have a small theater here in Florence. BC (before covid) it closed down due to age an not being digital. The owners raised over a hundred thousand dollar to bring it up to date. Then of coursed closed for covid. It has been reopened now for some time and I do see cars parked in the lot. For me, no way. Have a great day today.

Divers and Sundry said...

I remember it being a looked-forward-to experience all my life. As theaters have changed, though, the huge seats have become more and more uncomfortable for me. I'm happy watching the releases on HBO Max or wherever and discussing them on Facebook. Times change. I'm ok with that.

Anne in the kitchen said...

TheHub and I used to go to the movies at least once a week, but covid put an end to that! The closest theaters to me are multiplex theaters and I do know people are/were going back to them but with the serious increase in Omicron numbers I have no idea if it will last.
The Alabama theater downtown is one of those grand old places. Fortunately it was redone and is as beautiful as ever.

Tandy | Lavender and Lime ( said...

What wonderful memories. Movie theatre snacks are still expensive here. I think some movies are way better on the big screen so I hope they survive this crisis.

Jeanie said...

This post was so poignant for me. I couldn't agree more. I just don't like the multiplex -- it's cold and they're all alike. The small theatres of yesterday may have had dingy carpet and been small, but they were unique. And the wonderful big ones! We had two in downtown Lansing -- not quite so grand as the movie palaces in the big city, but nice Butterfield Theaters -- The Michigan (like yours) and The Gladmer. I don't remember as much of the Gladmer apart from their sparkling star ceiling but just walking into the Michigan was an experience with a grand lobby and staircase to the balcony. I miss that. Thanks for inspiring the memories and sharing yours.