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West Texas town of Stamford reopens local movie theater

January 17, 2019

STAMFORD, Texas (AP) — The balcony is finally open in the West Texas town of Stamford.

The Abilene Reporter-News reports the Grand Theatre is living up to its name. The 1930s-era movie palace, shuttered since 2011, is once again showing films.

Like the Tower Drive-In in nearby Rule, the Grand had to close its doors because of changes in the motion picture industry. The conversion to digital rippled the landscape for small-town theaters across the nation. Stamford has a population of nearly 3,000.

Back in 2002, the Grand received movies in large film cans, shipped from another theater. Once the movie ran for its designated period, it would be packed and shipped to the next theater.

But as cameras went digital, the projectors soon followed. Movie companies realized they could save quite a bit of money by convincing theaters to switch to digital projection. The argument for the switch was not only easier access to movies, but better sound as well.

The only hiccup in this plan is cost, of course. Locally-owned movie houses found themselves going out of business or scrambling to create community partnerships to save their theaters.

An early local example is Eastland’s Majestic Theatre, a restored beauty from the same era as the Grand. The M3 Palace Theater in Colorado City also successfully upgraded.

The Grand reopened Nov. 23 with “The Grinch.” Jessica Decker, a marketing professional in Stamford volunteering for the theater project, said it’s been a community effort.

“About two and a half years ago, the Economic Development Corporation put together a committee of people to fund raise and start the renovation process,” she said.

That committee raised more than $100,000 for the effort through donations and loans. Volunteers were enlisted for the demolition and restoration work.

“Just a lot of people in general spend a lot of time and money over the past two and a half years to put this thing back together,” Decker said.

Why was this a priority for the community?

“People just realized that it was too important to the town to lose. Not only because of the history, it’s a key landmark on the square,” she said. “But for having a place kids can go for entertainment.”

That’s true in any small town. And at this time of year, not many want to drive 80 miles round-trip to see a movie.

“Having something to do in the winter that’s constructive and beneficial is too valuable to lose,” Decker said.

The Grand shows movies at 7 p.m. Friday through Monday, with Sunday’s showing a matinee at 3 p.m. They’re family-friendly movies, PG-13 and under. Upcoming current features are listed on their Facebook page, but classic movies might be coming.

“That has definitely been discussed,” Decker said, and laughed. “I know if it were up to my dad, we’d have a whole John Wayne series.”

The auditorium features 350 modern seats. She said they still are taking donations to complete finishing touches.

Phil Swenson remembered visiting the Grand as a child. His favorite movies were seen there with his grandfather Saturday afternoons.

“Pat Boone had a famous one back then, I think it was ‘April Love‴,” he said. “But I remember the ‘Ten Commandments,’ especially in color.”

He’s hoping to see Steve McQueen’s “Bullitt” in the Grand, but will settle for a birthday party there, too.

“I’m just thankful that everybody is not afraid to volunteer,” he said of the theater. “That’s the main thing, if they’re here, they volunteered to help out.”

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Information from: Abilene Reporter-News, http://www.reporternews.com

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