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Crandell Theatre Set to Re-open July 9; Chatham Film Club Prevails

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Photographs by Peter Blandori

It was assumed.  For years The Chatham Film Club had been raising funds so that one day they would be able to buy the Crandell Theatre, whenever second-generation owner Tony Quirino decided to retire.  Then last January, with his retirement date fast approaching, Quirino died suddenly, leaving no will.  His widow, Sandy, who had wanted to honor Tony’s wishes and sell the theater to the film club for a price they could afford, was obliged, as executor of the estate, to get the best price possible.  Several other potential buyers emerged, and the talk on Main Street turned grim.  Then suddenly, the attorney for Judy Grunberg, a Chatham entrepreneur (the Blue Plate Restaurant, the Chatham Coop, PS/21, among other ventures) was in a Main Street law office signing closing papers on his client’s behalf.  Within hours, Grunberg had turned over title to the film club, which expects to reopen the Crandell on July 9th.  Rural Intelligence talked to Film Club treasurer Mary Gail Biebel, co-chair of the capital campaign, about how it all transpired.
 
RI: How fitting that the acquisition of the Crandell Theatre by the Chatham Film Club should turn out to be an action adventure weepy/dramedy with a surprise feel-good ending.  I’m still not absolutely clear how you became the owners.
 
MGB: Judy Grunberg made an offer that was accepted, which made her the official buyer, but it was always understood that the film club would end up the owners.  Like Judy, Lael Locke, a village trustee, threw in some money at the end.  None of us could have done it on our own, but we got together and got it done. 
  
RI:  Was it fun, entering the theater for the first time as owners? 
 
SK:  I went in the other day with 60 keys and a flashlight and finally did figure out how to turn on most of the lights.  Tony knew every key.  We found all these boxes of letters that go up on the marquee, so Sandi [Knackel, the Chatham Film Club president] and I got up on the extension ladder to put up a message.  We couldn’t reach the top, so we could only put up a short message, “Opening July 2010” and “Thank You.”  Everyone stopped to wish us well.  People offered to volunteer, to make contributions.  It was lovely.
 
RI:  Why do you think this theater means so much to the people of Chatham?
 
MGB: This is a pretty bifurcated community.  Some of us go to the Tannery Pond (chamber music) Concerts, and some of us go to the firehouse supper. But everyone goes to the Crandell.  Tony’s father is still alive.  His first job when the theater first opened in 1926, when he was just 9 years old, was carrying film cans up to the projectionist.  Then much later he ended up owning the place.  There have only been four owners in the entire history of the theater.  We’re the fifth. The Quirinos had been associated with it (first as employees, then as owners) that entire time.  I got a check for $20 from a woman in Ohio who wrote, “I grew up going to the Crandell, and I remember when Mrs. Quirino told my parents that I had misbehaved. I was told I couldn’t come back for a month.”
  
RI:  The theater has been locked up for five months, which must have taken a toll.  Any unexpected damage?
 
MGB:  No, actually, it was in remarkably stable condition—just a little bit musty.  Last night I met with Dennis Gawron who had worked for Tony for twenty years as a part-time projectionist and ticket taker.  He’s going to come back to work with us.  He comes in an hour before the movie starts, and it’s second nature to him what has to be done, but some of the operating systems take a little bit of explaining.  He’s teaching us.  And Shari Tessitori, who ran the concession stand for Tony, is also coming back.
 
RI:  Are you planning to raise the prices (previously $5 for adults and $4 for kids)?
 
MGB: Not now.  We’re also going to keep the concession prices the same.  We’re keeping the soda machine even though it makes an incredible racket during quiet times in the films.
 
RI: Is there a business plan?
 
MGB: Yes, we have a detailed business plan.  But single screen independent film theaters don’t make money.  The few that are left are all run by groups like ours as non profits. 
  
RI: So what’s the next step?
 
MGB: We’re starting a new campaign, Help Us Raze the Roof, because, as anyone who goes to the Crandell knows, it leaks.
 
RI: The renovation of the Mahaiwe Theatre in Great Barrington is said to have cost $9 million.  Presumably, the renovation of the Crandell would be somewhere in that same ballpark, or am I wrong? 
 
MGB:  The Mahaiwe is absolutely beautiful.  But we’re not planning a $9 million renovation.  We will need a million.  The roof alone is probably somewhere between $100,000 and $150,000.  It has a 1926 state-of-the-art ventilation system that leaks like crazy.  The exterior and interior stucco needs to be repaired.  The marquee needs work.  The bathrooms need to be renovated.  The seats need to be replaced.  We need a digital projection system.  And that’s just the stuff we need to use it as a movie theater.  There’s also a stage, an orchestra pit, dressing rooms—it was originally a vaudeville house.  That’s why Tony wanted to sell it; he knew .
  
RI: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned so far about running a movie theater?
 
MGB:  Dennis Gawron told us that at the end of the movie every night, before you lock up, you have to walk through the theater to make sure nobody fell asleep.

To make a donation to Help Us Raze the Roof, visit The Chatham Film Club website.

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Posted by Marilyn Bethany on 06/02/10 at 09:07 AM • Permalink