iN VIDEO: Community at the heart of Vernon Towne Cinema - InfoNews

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iN VIDEO: Community at the heart of Vernon Towne Cinema

October 22, 2019 - 6:00 AM

Old movie posters line the walls inside the historic downtown building.

It casts an image of a time nearly forgotten — before cell phones and online movie streaming when families would walk to the cinema to watch the one movie that played on its lone screen each week. Time has etched away at these snapshots of the past. Valuable plots of land were purchased by developers and communities where these iconic theatres once stood.

As the industry continues to change and historic theatres continue to sell for the land they occupy, the Vernon Towne Cinema remains standing, an iconic image in Vernon’s downtown core.

“I’m a bit of a romantic, I guess. I love the concept of having a little old theatre on Main Street U.S.A., or in this case, Canada,” says owner Gerry Sellars as he sits in his office surrounded by old movie posters and actor portraits.

Sellars, 69, has made his life in film. He worked as a projectionist in theatres before moving on to own and operate several drive-ins, theatres, and other businesses. But the history behind the Towne has captured his heart for nearly two decades.

In his time in the business, he’s seen the industry grow and change. One thing has become true, Sellars said, it’s adapt or die.

“It’s a changing landscape when it comes to the theatre business. I’m in a market where I’m up against a seven-plex and they have a lot of buying power, which I don’t have,” Sellars says. “It’s no longer a business where you get 60 pounds of film in cans, thread it up and run it and do that for seven days and you sell popcorn and that’s it. Today, to survive in this industry, you have to be adaptable and you have to do different things.”

Old film reels fill the projection room upstairs. The new digital projector hums as it casts The Lion King to the Sunday matinee audience below. Like the theatre itself, the projector room feels as though it was pulled from the past. The room is completely fireproof from the days when film was highly flammable.

As a history buff and industry man, Sellars regales stories of when he started in the business and when he purchased what would become the Towne Cinema.

While the industry has changed, Sellars says community lies at the heart of what makes a theatre like the Vernon Towne Cinema thrive.

“I try to make my staff realize that the fact that a customer walked through the door is a miracle,” Sellars says. “They’ve passed every bar in town, they didn’t attend their nephew’s bar mitzvah today or whatever it was. They’ve chosen to take a piece of their life and share it with us. That’s incredible. To me, that’s a miracle."

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