BERWICK — A longtime movie theater in Columbia County is facing the transition to the digital era, but the owner said he cannot afford the high cost and hopes for help from the community.
The Berwick Theatre on East Front Street has been showing the latest blockbusters for decades.
The theater opened as an opera house in 1868 and became a movie theater in the 1900s. Owner Vincent DiAugustine took it over in 1957.
DiAugustine remembers when John Wayne, Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart were the big stars. A projector showed their films on the big screen, but times have changed.
35 millimeter film will soon be a thing of the past as movie companies switch to digital.
DiAugustine, 88, said he cannot afford the $75,000 needed to upgrade his theater equipment.
“The entire system, which is the speaker system, and the complete projector system and the layout of wherever the sound is, the whole nine yards. You have to rewire everything and redo everything,” said DiAugustine.
The theater’s booking agent said it costs about $1,200 to reproduce a movie on film, and about $50 for a disc. DiAugustine said he does not blame the movie companies for wanting to save money, but said the change will affect smaller theaters like his.
“If they’re going to make all kinds of money, they should help us, but they’ve not made any suggestions yet to assist the small theaters like myself because there’s quite a few independent theaters, not cinemas, that may have a problem,” he said.
DiAugustine has charged $4 per ticket since the late 1980s, with soda and popcorn starting at just $1, all to make the theater affordable for moviegoers. He said he does not want to start raising prices now.
“So I don`t know what to do, but I`m hoping that I do get whatever assistance from the whole area and the people around and whoever feels that I am important to their community,” he added.
“It`s convenient, someplace to go to watch a movie that`s coming out. You don`t have to go to Bloomsburg or something,” said Dylan Fenstermacher of Berwick.
“This is something our town has for our kids so that they can go to the movies. It’s really nice,” said Donna Fetterman of Berwick. “I hope they can get something going. I know that some people have tried to have bake sales and fundraisers and things like that, but I think it`d take a little more than that.”
DiAugstine expects the digital switch to happen in about a year.
For now, you can still see a movie on film at the Berwick Theatre every night at 7 p.m.