Editorial: The Death of the Chester 5 and the Birth of a New Cinema?


At last count, approximately 22,000 readers have read our Chestertown Spy’s “breaking news” story that the Chester 5 Theatres had closed their doors. While the Spy has had similarly high readership for other top stories, this particular article, and the size of its audience, clearly hit a nerve.

Undoubtedly, one of the major reasons for interest is the obvious and rather depressing fact that when a town loses its movie theater it’s a really big deal. While it may not rise to the level of losing a hospital, it is the kind of simple amenity in a rural setting that demonstrates a certain quality of life. But it also is one that offers the community considerable cost savings and the hassle of driving an hour or more to see a movie.

And with this kind of news, there is no significant consolation that it’s not anyone’s fault; that Chestertown has just experienced a trend found throughout the country, that small house movie theaters failing as the result of internet competition and the invention of the binge-watching miniseries format. All that seems reasonable until that trend hits your town.

But with every disappointment comes a new opportunity, as they say in the movies.

The absence of the Chester 5 may be regrettable, but it does not mean the end of cinema in Kent County. In fact, it opens the door for perhaps a much more creative and sustainable concept that could more accurately reflect the community’s more diverse tastes in film.

With the student audience at Washington College nine months out of the year, a retirement population that grew up watching the movies, and no competing film outlet closer than Middletown, there would appear to be an opening for someone willing to take the plunge. The economic benefits go well beyond the price of tickets and popcorn; movie-goers are likely to grab a slice of pizza or a sandwich at a local shop before or after the movie. And of course the theater’s employees will spend their salaries in local businesses. Like any successful business, it helps the whole community.

Could it not be possible for  Washington College, RiverArts, the Garfield, and other individuals and entities who share a passion and need for film programming to cooperatively find some permanent venue that could be transformed into a state-of-the-art cinematic experience?  And might that venue be strategically placed to have a high economic impact with lowest overhead?

Perhaps not too wild a dream?





Letters to Editor

  1. Kate Livie says:

    “Could it not be possible for Washington College, RiverArts, the Garfield, and other individuals and entities who share a passion and need for film programming to cooperatively find some permanent venue that could be transformed into a state-of-the-art cinematic experience? And might that venue be statistically placed to have a high economic impact with lowest overhead?”

    Does it really need to be? Perhaps rather than cast this as a potential endeavor benefiting ‘fans of cinema,’ requiring ‘state of the art facilities,’ why not approach it as a fun, creative local business opportunity? The town of Biddeford, Maine has a movie theater that shows reruns of classics, some art films as well as new releases, and serves beer and more substantial food. They have pinball in the foyer and in many ways reflect a synthesis of how we watch movies now- comfortably, with snacks, drinks, and other entertainments that nearby cater to the standards (and budgets) of a small town.

    The reality is we may have to compromise our big box movie theater standards in favor of a less eye-popping viewing experience in favor of something quirky, creative, and local. A redux or followup to the Chester 5 won’t be a mini-IMAX, or a even a scale version of Middletown. It needs to be something unique since it will never be able to compete a huge multi-plex theater.And rather than outsource this to organizations for whom movie entertainment of the popular variety is not their mission, I would love to see this fresh business opportunity (and apparently a much desired amenity) go to a scrappy upstart, ready to re-conceptualize what a small town picture show looks like for today’s Chestertown.

    But the jist of your editorial is right on the money— a movie theater is the core of American small town life, an anchor since the days of vaudeville troops, when a community’s Opera House was a hallmark of civilized society’s arrival in the frontier. And I, for one, will sadly miss the cool comfort of a dark, air-conditioned theater in the sweltering Eastern Shore summer, escaping the heat and reality, if only for a few hours.

    • Kristen Owen says:

      Spot on, Kate. Thank you.

      • Massoni says:

        LOVE THIS AS A BUSINESS IDEA. Look at the success of the BookPlate in a time of closing bookstores. By inviting music, poetry, and lectures into the “bookstore” Tom created new audiences and customers for his store. Throw in the Biddeford concept and you could have a winner. Imagine if Bad Alfred’s showed classic gangster or just spaghetti western genres – it might create a new audience for the distillery and multiple uses for the space!

  2. . . . and Chestertown is desperate for more space for cultural and arts events. It would be a dream come true to find the capital to transform the movie theater into an appealing space for documentaries, independent, experimental, and old and new popular films AND for holding Chestertown’s many cultural and arts groups’ programs and events. Free and easy parking would be a plus. I hope The Spy is right that this is not too wild a dream!

  3. Garret falcone says:

    Amen to the editorial and the reply!
    Yes its hard to compete with the big theaters and netflix at home…
    However that can’t compete with the emotional experience of being with other moviegoers ..
    The laughs are louder and the tears are stronger when you are together…

    • Fletcher r. Hall, WC "63 says:

      I hate to see the death of another small business venture in Chestertown. This event does not bode well for the community. Be it a movie theater , a food store or a sundry shop, Chestertown cannot afford to lose the kind of businesses which make a town viable and livable. Especially, with a college student population of some 1400 college students ihiting the town. As a student at Washington College over fifty years ago, I well remember we had a choice of going to the movies in Chestertown or Church Hill. And the population had to be smaller in the less in the early 1960;s . Today, there is Netflix and other creations of technology which render a ‘night at the movies perhaps a less desirable entertainment mode.
      However, in a college town, the desire for a for a venue foe culture should be a vital component of the community. A private – public partnership would be an effective entity to
      serve the needs of the community on a year around basis. I would hope the new president of Washington College, representatives of the faculty and students and
      appropriate members of the private sector and city government will convene to address this matter.
      I would remind these entities that consolidation ion is not a dirty word. Collaboration is an operative word. Meeting the needs of an entire community is essential , There is a place for art, music and film to come together and thrive.

      Carpe Diem, Chestertown and Washington College.

  4. Melinda Bookwalter says:

    Thank you Spy for opening up a conversation and thank you Kate and all for expanding. I can only add that when I was in Amsterdam 20 plus years ago, I went to a movie theater and was enraptured by the experience. You arrived early or stayed after the movie for coffees, beverages, desserts in a “coffee house” atmosphere to meet with friends, discuss the movie, enjoy a night at the movies. So much more of an experience than dashing in then back to reality.

  5. Tess Hogans - Garfield Center Manager says:

    Stay tuned! We have been showing films occasionally at the Garfield and hope to do more soon. I grew up at Chester 5 and am so sad that it has closed, but glad that we live in a town where sad events like these can trigger a creative and exciting response.

  6. Jared Ingersoll says:

    Good thoughts. Also, a theater which brought in high quality films (indy, foreign, etc.) would create an awesome niche market.

  7. Ruth Wehden says:

    I would hope that the community could come together to save the Chester 5! I love independent films and would love to see them offered, as well. A more historic theatre in Doylestown, PA, has become a non-profit organization. Maybe something like this? http://countytheater.org/membership

  8. Alexander says:

    A dream is never to wild.
    Great suggestions, ditto to all the comments, spot on, well said, I concur, well stated, kudos, great ideas, we endorse the enthusiasm.
    When a collection for a future movie theater is organized, you may count on us.
    Just one suggestion, do not forget what Lindsey stated in her letter to the editor in the original story “I have 5 children and this was a wonderful way to treat the kids to a fun a day out.”

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