- Grove City, Pennsylvania

February 13, 2013

Save the 'queen of Broad Street'

Guthrie begins improvement campaign

By Felicia A. Petro/Senior Reporter
Allied News

GROVE CITY — Grove City's historic movie house has been generous to the community - and the community has an opportunity to give back.

"We're trying to raise money to do many things, to improve the movie-going experience," said Eric Thomas, co-owner of the Guthrie Theater with his wife, Paula.

The theater is looking to purchase a digital projector to play the growing number of movies from Hollywood that no longer use 35 millimeter films. Digital movies are cheaper and more resilient.

"The industry has finally settled on a standard that the studios are using. Now we can finally get involved," Thomas said; prior to that "every manufacturer was doing their own thing and now they got together on how the system and software works."

However, it won't be cheap for small theaters to switch, especially those like the Guthrie; historic, single-screen theaters in the country are usually a labor of love for its owners, not a money-maker as multi-screen theaters can be.

Those still hanging on have nervously been anticipating the switch to digital from film due to the expense.

The Guthrie - which is one of a kind in Mercer County - has received four proposals on projectors. Thomas said makers such as Barco, Nec and Sony have projectors that cost from $60,000 to $80,000.

"The Sony is almost $100,000. It has different options," he said.

The theater may also need to purchase a whiter screen to show digital, especially with 3D movies that are "more reflective," Thomas added, as well as potentially having to buy another audio processor.

The Thomases have a bulky, heavy Barco digital projector that Eric got for free. It had been used "on a rock and roll tour," he noted.

Even at 8 years old, and used for different presentations hosted at the Guthrie, the projector's quality is no longer "up to new standards," Thomas said.

"It's good for projecting an image on the screen, but the technology has improved so much with digital projectors over the last five years."

If the lamp in the old digital needed to be replaced, it would cost $10,000, he added. "The newer (digital projector) lamps are $700," Thomas noted. His old digital player's server may also not be compatible with hard drives for newer movies.

With all the costs to consider, the Thomases have embarked on a campaign to keep "the queen of Broad Street" open for business with its "Seat-backs for Greenbacks Campaign."

If a person or a group of people donate $250, their names will be placed on the back of one of the Guthrie's 360 theater seats on the first level. The theater also has a balcony.

"You can print anyone's name you choose," Thomas said.

Although the details haven't been finalized, the names will be put on a rectangular vinyl decal about 5 by 7 inches. "As far as the coloring, it will be metallic," he added. The vinyl was decided on to accommodate more lettering, he noted.

Within the week, the Guthrie will be put up samples of the vinyl decals on chairs in the lobby and house.

About 30 donors have responded so far, with some already handing over their checks, Thomas said.

"It's very encouraging to see the community get behind this idea," he said. Besides local donors, the theater has had people who moved out of Grove City respond with pledges.

"We're starting to make an impact not only in the community but farther reaching. It's encouraging. We want to keep the lights on, and community showing support is really terrific," he added.

There's no deadline on the campaign but "we need to make the (digital) transition soon," Thomas noted.

He and his wife took over the theater in 2001.

"The theater is a hobby," Thomas said. His wife "runs the place," he added, while he works full time as a technical manager with an independent television production business that has worked with networks like ESPN.

Thomas' work at the Guthrie has a special feel about it, he noted.

"It's interesting to stand in the back of theater and realize the different generations in that room who have been entertained throughout the years," he said, "and the changes in culture, society and - now - changes in technology. It's a part of our history I want to see preserved."

Find out more about how to donate to The Guthrie Theater's Seatback's campaign by searching the theater's name on Facebook or call the office during show times at 724-458-0900.

Published Feb. 2, 2013, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.