November 29, 2013

Buyers of old Maine theater new at this

The Dexters will keep the things that are already popular at the Strand Cinema in Skowhegan – low prices and first-run films.

By DOUG HARLOW Morning Sentinel

SKOWHEGAN — Matt Dexter, 36, owns a plumbing and heating business. His wife, Misty, 40, is a physical therapist.

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Matt Dexter works filling orders in the concession room at the Strand Cinema in Skowhegan that he and his wife Misty purchased in September.

David Leaming/Morning Sentinel

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Misty and Matt Dexter, at work as the film “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” begins in the large theater at their cinema in Skowhegan. They’re not worried about reports that a ghost has appeared in the building, and say they’ve never seen one there.

David Leaming/Morning Sentinel

Additional Photos Below

Now the Dexters, from the Franklin County town of Strong, are owners of a piece of Skowhegan history and a centerpiece of downtown business – the historic 1929 Strand Cinema on Court Street. They purchased the three-theater complex in September from the previous owner, John Moore, owner of Narrow Gauge Cinemas in Farmington.

“We were looking for something supplemental – I want to work inside where it’s warm and dry. I was sick of being cold every winter,” Matt Dexter said. “We were kind of interested in the movie thing once it came along – we never thought about it until there was an opportunity.”

The Dexters, parents of three young children, said they have business and real estate experience but they have never run a movie theater before. They are giving it a go as an investment opportunity, they said.

The Strand Cinema is a classic movie palace with marble walls and terrazzo floor, 25-foot ceilings and a composite of marble, quartz, granite and glass in the lobby. Other features include a red-brick facade, the original 1920s marquee and a narrow box office. The main theater seats 425 people, and two other theaters, added in 2005, each seat 145.

AFFORDABLE, CONVENIENT, LOCAL

Beyond the obvious appeal of having a vintage movie house downtown, visitors recently said the ticket prices, first-run, digital-quality films and the location are what keep them coming back.

On Sunday, during the run of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” more than 220 tickets were sold for the 1 p.m. showing alone.

“I love coming here because it’s very inexpensive, convenient and they have nice popcorn – that’s a plus,” said Jennifer Kunz of Canaan. “I remember coming here when it was only one theater and I like the fact that they have three now.”

Paula Whittemore of Cornville said she and her husband, Jason, have been coming to the Skowhegan theater for more than 20 years.

“It’s beautiful here and it’s affordable for a family,” Paula Whittemore said. “When we have all the kids with us, we can afford it and it’s local.”

Tickets are $6 for adults and $4 for children under 12 and people 60 and older. Mondays and matinées are $4 for all seats. At mainstream movie theaters in Maine, ticket prices average $7-$10 for adults and $6.50-$7.50 for children.

Except for the seasonal Skowhegan Drive-in Theater, the closest movie theaters are in Pittsfield, Farmington and Waterville.

“We’re going to keep those ticket prices and see what operating costs look like,” Matt Dexter said. “I don’t have any intention of going up. We want to keep the locals staying local; I don’t want them driving to Waterville. We try to keep them home with the low price.”

KEEPING ITS VINTAGE ESSENCE

The theater was known as The Strand in the early 1970s. When Moore purchased the place in 2003, he said he wanted to retain the vintage architecture. He added comfortable seats, put in a new sound system and restored the murals in the original classic movie theater to retain the vintage look.

“I tried to capture the essence of the old-fashioned theater, while adding all the amenities and technological advances of a modern theater,” Moore said at the time. “To that end, we have digital sound, Klipsch speakers, and 48 inches of leg room between the rows.”

Moore did not respond to requests for comment on the sale of the theater to the Dexters.

Matt Dexter said the original theater seated about 930 people, but the seats were wooden and narrow, with little leg room. The new place has fewer seats, he said, but the comfort level is a big draw.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Matt and Misty Dexter with their children Bailey and Max in the lobby of the historic Strand Cinema in Skowhegan that the couple purchased last September.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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Paula and Jason Whittemore of Cornville said they have gone to the Strand Cinema for 20 years and will continue doing so because of the convenience and reasonable prices.

Staff photo by David Leaming

 


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