Like so many theaters nationwide, Kingston’s Firehouse Theater is fighting for its life amid the coronavirus pandemic and a dying movie industry.
When folks last saw the Firehouse Theater it was getting ready to host its annual Oscars party, with a special twist — the theater was featured on a CBS News special Feb. 9, 2020, ahead of the main show itself.
This national exposure would save the Firehouse Theater, raising over $180,000 on its GoFundMe page to pay off the cost of new projectors, credit card debt and a second mortgage taken out for owner Craig Smith, as well as provide much-needed upgrades to the theater.
“Business, actually before the Oscars, had started to pick up. That December was my best December, and there seemed to be more and more interest in my theater. Then that CBS expose’ happened, and then it exploded. I had people traveling to come in and shake my hand and visit my theater that … grew up with these independent movie theaters, and they were all gone where they lived,” Smith said.
The GoFundMe, which can be found at www.gofundme.com/f/cbtr6-kingston-firehouse-theater is currently at $227,535 with a goal of $300,000 to get the theater in a place where it can be established as a nonprofit.
When COVID-19 hit business just dropped off for Smith, who already had a dwindling audience as more people were using streaming services rather than going to the movies, a move he fears the coronavirus has compounded.
“The big fear is that this industry has been permanently changed,” Smith said.
Like a lot of business owners, Smith looked into a few ideas to keep the bills paid and keep it in people’s minds. He looked at what it would take to convert the theater into a temporary drive-in theater, as area drive-ins were seeing a resurgence over the summer of 2020.
“I had a couple of different groups approach me about that,” Smith said. “You can’t just pull it off overnight; you can do certain little things on a very small scale.”
The cost of the projector needed for a drive-in would be well over $10,000. Throw in the cost to buy or rent a plot of land, plus audio devices, and it would be a bad short- and long-term investment.
“I love the drive-in theaters around here. I used to take my kids all the time. (I) highly recommend it. But it’s also a seasonal thing; it may be open in May, more likely June, and runs until October, and then that’s about it,” Smith said.
Smith temporarily explored another old school idea of movie rental, but ultimately decided not to do that. Instead, he is looking into other options such as renting out the theater for small groups and hosting limited events himself.
“We’re looking at selling some movie posters here soon. We’re going to open up, I think this Saturday, from like 1 p.m.-5 p.m. and sell popcorn (with real butter) and have some posters for sale,” Smith said. “I still have to investigate, but we want to offer to rent out the theater space, but if no more than six people can go, I just don’t think that’s a viable option.”
Ultimately Smith is looking to a COVID-19 free future, where the theater can open up, and people can come back and watch movies.
“My hopes are that we get through this by mid-summer, maybe late fall, and…be open before that with all the limitations and people finally get their vaccines and shake off the fear and get the theater going strong enough with both film and live performances,” Smith said.