By Bryan Stevens
Downtown Erwin’s iconic Capitol Cinema, which has been closed for nearly two years, may get a new lease on life, thanks to the plans of its new owner.
Robert Fury, who said he paid $100,000 to acquire the former movie theater from the previous owners, wants to re-open the property as a music venue. He had the marquee lights fully illuminated this past Friday evening to signal a change in status for the historic piece of downtown Erwin.
Earle Hendren opened the Capitol Theatre in 1935. His son, Joe, operated the Capitol until his death in 2005. Joe’s daughters, Jan and Luann, continued to run the theater after his death until closing the business in August 2019.
Fury moved to the town of Unicoi a year ago. “I sold my house in Washington (State) three years ago, bought an RV, traveled around, looking for where I wanted to move next,” he said, adding that motorcycle roads such as North Carolina’s The Dragon led him to Unicoi County.
“I rode my Yamaha motorcycle to this region 10 years ago,” Fury recalled, “and that’s what brought me here, but the people here are so great and that’s what’s going to keep me.”
Fury’s professional background has been involved in construction, in one way or another, for 30 years.
“I have a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a marketing major and communications minor,” he said.
His most recent ventures have involved flipping houses, in which he bought and sold nearly 50 houses during a short period. He’s also managed a tree service for two years.
“I’m selling [on] eBay full time,” Fury said. “I just hired an employee to help me with that.”
But now he owns the Capitol Cinema building and has big plans for the property’s future.
“It’s my dream,” he said, before adding, “I didn’t come to Tennessee to buy a theater, but it is what I’ve been working toward my whole life.”
He fell in love with music at age 16. “I took a trip to Europe and played sax for a band,” he said. “I flew out of Manhattan, and then we played music in towns all across Europe. I saw the world, and it was amazing.”
Fury grew up in Idaho, where his father worked as a mechanic and his mother taught school. “We were always building,” he said. “We owned lots of 8-track cartridges and always listened to music.”
At age 8, he came a fan of the PBS television series “This Old House” and watched every episode. Fury said that his love of building comes naturally to him.
On his first visit to Erwin, the theater was what he said he noticed immediately.
He recalled that in Spokane, Washington, two theaters that remind him of the Capitol were renovated a few years ago. “They transformed that part of town,” he said.
Fury explained that hotels, bars and other entertainment-related business have sprung up around the two theaters.
“Instinctively and intuitively, I knew it could work in Erwin, too,” he said, although he noted that Spokane and Erwin are very different towns.
“This will be a property that can help bring great things to Erwin,” Fury said. “People are excited to see it get going.”
Once his dream becomes reality, Fury said he plans to offer a variety of music genres, adding that he has a team in place to help him with that objective.
Fury said that his team consists of Rhonda Williamson from Pikeville, Kentucky, and Justin Valentine, a Johnson City resident.
“Our first thing will be to look at the theater and discuss its future,” he said.
Fury said he plans to listen to the community and work community input into the plans.
“I want to give back,” he said. “I want this to become a gathering center for the town.”
One pressing concern is the building’s roof. “I’ll fix the roof and update it,” he said. “It will be safe. It will not be languishing.”
Fury noted that the close proximity to Interstate 26 and the nearness of Asheville, North Carolina, should also benefit his planned music venue.
He said he has been impressed with the affinity of local residents for music. “My neighbors play music,” he added.
Fury’s also impressed with the people of Unicoi County. “People are so nice here,” he said. “Much nicer than most places.”
Fury also remarked that he knows that he has taken on a lot of responsibility.
“I’m not a paper planner,” he said. “I knew within five minutes I wanted it (the Capitol Cinema).”
In the meantime, he said he is living in his RV while his home in Unicoi is being built.
Fury wants to open his newly acquired downtown Erwin property by the fall of 2022 in time for the Unicoi County Apple Festival.
“There will be nothing like this in the whole area,” he said.