A lot of talk has been going around lately about the Strand theater in Dover, NH, which has been closed since last September and is currently up for sale. Articles in Foster’s newspaper and The Wire have stirred up community sentiments about the theater, and it appears everyone has their two cents to put it. A facebook group recently started for the cause - “The Dover Strand should be an independent theater!” has fueled a lot of the fire, coordinating positive protests, circulating questionnaires asking what people want to see go into that space, and generally encouraging community involvement.
The real question however, is what the current and possible future owners want to go into that space. I’ve included sections from The Wire’s article below to help explain. (Rose DiBerty of Rose Realty in Madbury is the current property owner)
DiBerto said he, too, hopes to see The Strand remain a movie theater. “Quite honestly, I’d like to see it eventually be Dover’s version of The Music Hall,” he said. “I think there’s a market for it and I think it’d be good for city businesses.”
First off, this seems a little contradictory because The Music Hall isn’t a movie theater. Yes I know they play movies, but it’s very distinctly a performance hall that plays movies, and not the other way around. Lets explore this further.
I would love to see a legitimate performance venue come to Dover. The town has encouraged a growing artist community over the past 5 years, and is ready for a larger venue to continue it’s momentum. But I have to cringe when I hear people use the Music Hall as an example of the ideal venue. A lot of the reason Dover has the artistic community it does, is because those people are no longer in Portsmouth. Portsmouth has always been on the aristocratic up and up, but in the last five years there has been a noticeable departure from the artistic community and a distinctive move to tailor to the rich community. I would say the Music Hall is no different. They have an incredible space and a lot of potential to build momentum in the artistic community by bringing in progressive acts that appeal to a younger demographic. Instead, they tailor to an older, richer demographic. For most in their twenties, the last good show to come through the Music Hall was Bright Eyes - and that was several years ago. As Portsmouth and Newburyport compete to be each other, the Music Hall remains like The Firehouse - culturally irrelevant to over half the population.
But lets step away from The Music Hall idea for a minute and explore the possibility of a traditional movie theater.
Independent theaters have struggled to stay afloat on the Seacoast and across the nation. The Ioka Theater in Exeter closed late in 2008, and potential buyer Marc Murai ended his months-long efforts to revive the theater last October. Hampton Cinemas also closed in 2008, and York Beach Cinema closed in 2006. The Music Hall is the only remaining independent movie theater on the Seacoast.
Independent theaters must compete with large multiplex chains like Regal, as well as home entertainment options. Older theaters also struggle to cover the costs of equipment upgrades and building maintenance, and The Strand was no exception. The theater rooms were small and had poor sound quality, and they rarely filled up.
The group learned last week that one of the building’s potential buyers is former Dover City Councilor Dennis Ciotti, who owns Dennis Ciotti Racing Products and Defense Manufacturers, Inc. Ciotti did not return phone messages last week, but Foster’s Daily Democrat reported that he is interested in reopening The Strand as a first-run movie theater, meaning it would show major new releases. He also told Foster’s he would consider hosting live entertainment in the theater.
Does this seem crazy to anyone else? The one thing that this theater has tried to do for years, and failed is be a first-run movie theater, so why would anyone reopen it and do the same thing? Maybe they think they can do a better job, make some improvements, try a few new ideas - but in the end, the trend is pretty clear that the small town first-run movie theater isn’t a viable business plan.
But what would work as a theater in that space? The Wire incorrectly stated that “The Music Hall is the only remaining independent movie theater on the Seacoast.” First, because the Music Hall is not an independent movie theater, and second because The Screening Room in Newburyport is the only independent movie theater on the Seacoast. And yes, by independent I mean independently owned, and independent movies. Thanks to Janine Auger’s facebook group, a lot of people have been talking about other theater setups besides first-run movies, and a lot of people are excited about it. The only problem is that no one with the money to make it happen has expressed much interest.
Personally, I’d like to see Dover do something progressive that isn’t represented anywhere else in the area. There’s a lot of potential for that space, and a lot of community support for it. What do you think?