Photo by Emily Perry
Ashland’s beloved local theatre, Ashland Street Cinema, has closed its doors for good. This comes after the theater’s owners decided not to renew the lease for the building. Students and faculty alike are heartbroken to see another Ashland staple gone. According to the Ashland Independent Film Festival (AIFF) blog, it was initially built in 1996 to provide mainstream movies while the Varsity Theatre located downtown offered more independent films.
Coming Attractions Theaters, which runs the Ashland Street Cinema as well as the Varsity, have closed all of their theaters except for two in Alaska, according to John Flint from the Ashland Tidings. The Varsity Theatre is still open and will resume operations once theaters get approval from the state.
Students and faculty were saddened about Ashland Street Cinema closing down. Grace Bolling, a former SOU student, was “shocked and sad” when she heard about the closing. Grace’s sentiments echo many members of the community both at SOU and Ashland as a whole. “I’m still so gutted that it’s closed for good,” Ezra Farner, a current SOU student, said, “but I guess I’m not super surprised because movie theaters have been struggling a lot with COVID.”
The pandemic has widely impacted the theater industry as a whole. Because of physical distancing and a lack of movies being supplied at theaters, cinemas have been prevented “from operating at full capacity” and are “deprived of content that would get a customer through the door,” according to KTVL. “Our business model is such that we depend on people coming out for the social aspect of watching the movies in the cinema, and Hollywood is releasing films based on the fact that the theaters are open,” Al Lane, the President and Chief Operating Officer of Coming Attractions Theatres said.
Digital Cinema professor, Christopher Lucas, was saddened like many in the Ashland community, upon hearing that it closed. “There’s been an industry-wide downsizing as a result of COVID, but it also predates the pandemic,” he said. “Attendance [to movie theaters] has been flat for decades, due to streaming and movies becoming available online.”
Lane had hoped the new Congress relief package, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), would help out with the building’s rent. “We were in on the first round of PPP…[which] allowed us to bring people back to help us get ready for our eventual reopening.”
While Coming Attractions Theatres was given the green light to open their theaters on the coast, a few days before opening back up they were told they could not sell concessions. “Since snack bars are a major profit center for the theaters, that killed the opening,” Flint continued for the Ashland Daily Tidings.
The theater has been beloved by students and faculty alike, with many reminiscing of the fun memories they had seeing the latest blockbusters with friends or family. “During college, my friends and I would always walk over to the theater to watch the new Marvel movies coming out, which was super fun,” Sophia Miller, an SOU alum, recalled. Another recollection they have was watching “Knives Out” with their family in that theater, which was a great experience “as one of my last memories with my whole family before the pandemic.”
Robert Pelfrey, a recent SOU graduate and former employee at the theater, described it as his second home. “The staff felt like a family, and it hurts to see it being taken down,” he said. “I am looking forward to the next memories in the building,” and after the pandemic “for Coming Attractions to have great success in giving people their entertainment.”
“It was nice to have a movie theater in town to escape to when school is killing you,” Chloe Ordway, another recent graduate, said. Ordway shared that one of her favorite memories was watching “Cats”, calling it “the experience of a lifetime.”
In the pre-COVID times, Ashland Street Cinema partnered with EPIC Events at SOU with $3 movie nights to students every Monday. Ezra Farner remembers these nights fondly and attended them with his friends often. “I also remember when I went there the night before I left Ashland because of COVID and thinking it was so weird to see it empty,” he said. He still had a good time being the only one in the theater, and “everyone that worked there was so excited to see a person come in because they hadn’t had a customer in a few days.”
Even though things like convenience and content have made SOU students lose interest in seeing movies at the Varsity, hopefully that will change soon. Lane hopes to “bring even more movies to [the Varsity Theatre],” he told KOBI 5. In another interview with KTVL, he mentioned that they can “shift a lot of the film product over [to the Varsity] and still take care of Ashland as a community.” Christopher Lucas said that since we no longer have a movie theater closer to campus, this will inspire SOU students to go to the Varsity Theatre. “We can even find ways to get films onto campus,” said Lucas.
“Ashland is a geat movie-going town, and the population really seems to love movies,” Lucas said in a closing statement. This is very true for both film lovers and makers alike. Ashland has been named one of the “Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker” according to MovieMaker Magazine for the now eighth year in a row and hosts the annual Ashland Independent Film Festival which partners with Coming Attractions. Needless to say, it is definitely a town that appreciate movies.
While many are mourning the loss of Ashland Street Cinema, Ashland is not without a movie theater. After COVID has become a thing of the past, one can expect to find more movies at the Varsity. Ashland moviegoers will be able to see a film with each other again, gasping at thrillers and laughing at comedies, munching on buttery popcorn and tasty snacks. Even though Ashland Street Cinema is gone, the memories made there by generations of students and community members will live on.