By Richard Rourk
Due to weather damage, Capitol Cinema I & II in downtown Erwin is closing its doors for good.
“The roof support was compromised in December 2018 during the heavy snowfall we had,” owner Jan Bradley said. “We’ve had several engineers look at the roof and the cost of repair far exceeds the number of patrons who attend movies here, thus making it unfeasible to fund the repair for keeping it solely as a theatre.”
The theater has been a part of Erwin for eight decades
“The Capitol Theatre opened its doors in September 1940, contrary to some reports that it opened in 1935,” Bradley said. “It was one of several theatres owned by our late grandfather, Earle Hendren.”
Bradley acknowledged that the theater has always been a family-owned business.
“After (Earle’s) passing in 1962, Daddy took it over and remained owner until his untimely death in 2005,” Bradley said. “It was a single-screen movie house until Daddy renovated it in the 1980s and enclosed the balcony to make it a twin-screen theatre, renaming it ‘Capitol Cinema I & II’.”
Not only has the theater provided entertainment and joy for the community, it has also been a source of pride for Bradley and her family.
“Movies and popcorn have always run in my blood,” she said. “I have always said the first solid food I ate was popcorn. From the time I was 7 years old I have worked in some capacity at either the Holiday Drive-In or the Capitol.”
A lifetime of memories has been made since the theater started serving the community in the 1940s. According to Bradley, the theater has seen many of the greatest movies grace the Capitol’s screens.
“There are so many memorable movies to list, but classics like ‘Gone with the Wind’ and ‘The Ten Commandments’ stand out during daddy’s time, and then ‘Walk the Line’ which was the reopening premier in November 2005, after daddy passed and our first extensive renovation,” Bradley said. “Of course all of the Marvel and DC Comic movies were fun to show, as were the ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Twilight’ series.”
Bradley is very proud of what the theater has meant for so many people over the years.
“I am most proud of the fact that the Capitol has been a constant part of downtown Erwin for close to 80 years, and under the same family ownership for three generations,” Bradley said.
With the theater closing, Bradley said she hopes the building will be a place that the community will still be able to gather in the future.
“It is my hope that someone or some foundation will look at the potential of the building as a multi-purpose facility for the citizens of Erwin and Unicoi County,” Bradley said. “Theatre business for the small-town independent theatre owner has been on the decline over the past several years. Televisions are larger and more affordable than ever and streaming services are attractive for families and they afford them the option of staying home for entertainment.”
According to Bradley, the hometown theater has a hard time competing with other competitive markets.
“Going to the movies is just one part of a night out, without other activities to attend, our competition ultimately won,” Bradley said.
Bradley acknowledged that she will miss the theater dearly.
“I will miss seeing our loyal patrons that have supported the theatre over the years and remained true to seeing a movie in Erwin as opposed to attending one in a competitive market,” Bradley said. “It is because of these loyal patrons that the theatre has been able to remain open for as long as it has.”
Bradley and her family are thankful for the many patrons that have visited the theater over the years.
“I want to say thank you for the many years of support the citizens have bestowed upon Capitol Cinema,” Bradley said. “As heartbreaking as it is to them, they need to understand that this was an agonizing decision for our entire family to make, one that did not come easy.”
Bradley also expressed appreciation for the employees that have been the backbone of the business.
“I want to thank our loyal employees that have been a part of the theatre during its run, especially those who have been with me during my ownership,” Bradley said. “Without their loyalty and dedication, we would not have been able to remain open for as long as we did. Ticket sales drive the theatre business and without those sales, there is no business.”
According to Bradley, refunds for all gift certificate holders will be given by going to the theater box office on Thursday, Aug. 8, from 6-8 p.m. and on Saturday, Aug. 10, from 10 a.m. until noon. Customers are asked to bring their gift card with them to verify the balance.