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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Hometown movie theaters a rarity

Friday, August 17, 2007

Ashley Theater Manager Julliette January threads film in preparation for one of the cinema's free Wednesday movies. The film runs from the big platters (front) around the room and rewinds back on the top platter.
As mega monsters like The Rave in Plainfield lure movie patrons to their theaters, small town cinemas struggle to stay afloat. But with community support and the ability to get first release movies, hometown theaters like Ashley Square Cinema in Greencastle keep their doors open.

Moviegoing might be one of the great pleasures in life. Many people remember being a kid and going to the movies on a Saturday afternoon. Along with the sensation of entering the cool depths of a theater on a hot summer night and getting lost in the story line of the movie. And, sharing a hot buttery tub of popcorn with friends.

Even today, many love the smell and the taste of theater popcorn.

In this day and age of mega theaters and mega pricing, small privately owned movie theaters like Greencastle's Ashley Square are becoming more of a rarity.

According to Ashley Square Theater Manager Julliette January, running a local cinema has both drawbacks and positives.

"We only have two movie screens and we don't have the equipment to show the same movie on both screens simultaneously. We can't stop and rerun any portion of the film, and loading it isn't always an easy job," she stated as she wound film onto one of five giant platters in the upstairs projection room.

She adds "Occasi-onally there isn't room for everyone at the free summer movies and we may not have all the extra amenities as the mega theaters, but the cost is right and the popcorn is just as tasty as the big 16 screen cinemas. And the service, generally comes with a genuine smile," she comments.

"We get to know most of the movie goers and because of that, people are often more considerate. During the summer we, offer free kids movies and we get most of the more popular new movie releases at the same time as the big theaters. You don't have to spend money on gas driving a long distance," she commented. "And, it's always nice to see your friends and neighbors."

Movie theaters in some form have been around since the 1880s when equipment was first invented. There were a number of moving picture shows in Greencastle during this time, but most were not real theaters and showed short silent vignettes.

According to DePauw Professor Em-eritus John Baughman, Greencastle's first real theater opened in 1875. Called the Opera House, it started out with live entertainment and premiered its first movie in 1907.

As the movie theaters' popularity grew, they moved from showing silent films with piano accompaniment to talkies. Around this same time, the Opera House was remodeled and renamed the Granada.

During World War II, movie theaters hosted newsreels and war bond drives, attracting patriotic and news-hungry Americans by the millions -- 85 million each week. Another theater called the Voncastle opened in town as did a third theater called the Chateau.

Cinemas began to see a decline in the late '40s and '50s mostly because of television. Between 1947 and 1957, 90 percent of American households acquired a TV.

But the movie business continued developing new film techniques including the introduction of color. It became an essential ingredient in competing with television, which remained a black-and-white medium until the mid-1960s.

According to Baug-hman, the Voncastle closed in 1973, and the Chateau was the only movie house in Greencastle until 1984 when it was sold. The popcorn popper from the Chateau, aptly named "Scorchy", now resides at the Putnam County Museum.

That same year, a new theater called Ashley Square opened on a site which had long been one associated with entertainment and people -- The Crawford Hotel. It had two screens with 200 seats in each. Close to DePauw University and across from the newly opened Walden Inn, it was owned by Indianapolis area developers.

Baughman claims that "enthusiasm by local managers quickly waned as the theater seemed to only draw university students. In 1985, Bob Reese took over management but by 1987 it was ready to close. In 1989 Teicher Theaters of Ohio took control but couldn't make a success of the theater either. In 1991, Bob and Brenda Keller who operated the K theaters in Danville, Plainfield and Rockville, took over and have continued to successfully operate Ashley Square to present day."

With digital technology as a driving force in the 1990's and 21st century, there is a resurgence of movie goers. To draw in movie goers, Ashley Square offers low prices, new release movies, a "half off everything" deal to military personnel, has family movie nights and free summer movies for kids. And, they are proud of their customer service.

"When you run a local theater in a small town, you have the advantage of offering personalized service," remarks January. "We work very hard to make sure we offer everything we can to our customers. We can't please everyone all the time, but we try. Our advice for the kids summer movies is to come early."

This attention to customers is only one of many reasons that while people still go to the suburban mega theaters, quite a few people hang on to their small town roots, and head to Ashley Square for a bucket of popcorn and a few hours of pure entertainment.

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