After an almost quarter-century run, the script for Capitol Cinemas appears to be ending. After July 18, it will be fade to black for the downtown Princeton movie theater.
Owner Heidi Boyd announced Monday morning on the theater’s Facebook page that the economic atmosphere of running the business in a world of streaming and on-demand services has left the age of the projector and silver screen behind.
“This is the hardest post I’ve ever had to make,” Boyd wrote on social media. “I can no longer financially hang on and will need to close temporarily or permanently soon.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic is not the sole cause, it was a contributing factor in Boyd’s decision. The state’s economic shutdown closed the three-screen theater for three months beginning in March. Capitol Cinemas reopened June 5, but attendance has been sporadic and costs to keep things running have increased.
“It didn’t help, that’s for sure,” she said of the pandemic. “Business was way down before (the pandemic). This is the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Fear of not being able to make payroll for the first time was her deciding factor. Mondays are when she books films for the next slate of features that start on Fridays, so Monday was the right time to make the difficult announcement, she said.
As it stands, there are no prospective buyers and no script that sees the theater remaining open. This week’s scheduled features will play through Thursday. Free children’s movies sponsored by local backers will show this Saturday and next weekend. But after the July 18 free movie, it will be curtains for Capitol Cinemas.
“The price of everything went up and didn’t come back down,” Boyd said. “I’ve just been able to make it. I’ve always been able to say, ‘I’ll figure it out, I’ll figure it out.’ I don’t think I can figure it out anymore.”
Traffic has been slow since the reopening and efficiency has plummeted. There are no summer blockbusters to fill the seats, and even if there were, social distancing has drastically cut capacity. To meet public health mandates, cleaning and disinfecting have required more staff.
“I would normally have on person running concessions, but now I need three,” Boyd said, explaining that each worker has one task behind the counter to keep things safe.
She said conversations with the owner of Princess Theaters of Mayfield have revealed she is not struggling alone in the midst of the pandemic.
“I would imagine any theater would be suffering after this, period,” Boyd said.
Many of this year’s most anticipated movies have been pushed back to 2021 or have gone straight to streaming services. Theaters like Capitol Cinemas have been relegated to running classics. In fact, the last slate of movies in Princeton will feature two 1980s features — “Gremlins” and “The Neverending Story” — and the 1997 summer blockbuster “The Lost World: Jurassic Park.”
Mark McSparin and minority partner Mike Cherry opened Capitol Cinemas in 1996. After a few years, Cherry bought out McSparin. Under Cherry’s ownership, he entrusted day-to-day management to Boyd, as much of his time was consumed by his duties as a state lawmaker. In 2008, Boyd purchased Capitol Cinemas.
Two years later, the theater underwent a costly conversion from 35mm film to digital in order to continue offering first-run movies. That $140,000 expense was covered mostly by local fundraising, with the balance refinanced by Boyd.
“A lot of money was raised in this community. I can never express my appreciation enough,” she said.
But streaming services like Netflix and on-demand offerings, viewable from anywhere with a mobile device, have put the squeeze on theaters. In fact, Boyd has never felt a competition from multiplexes like the one in Paducah.
“I never felt very threatened by the larger cinemas,” she said. “Their experience is a completely different one from the experience we provide. Their costs are too much.”
Capitol Cinemas in Princeton actually dates back to 1939. Boyd, a native of Ohio, moved to Princeton as a child and was able to enjoy the local theater only once before it closed in the late 20th century. That was at a time when movie theaters nationwide moved from downtown to multi-screen complexes near shopping malls.
Since reopening in the mid-1990s, the business has entertained tens of thousands of moviegoers and offered Boyd countless treasured memories and friendships.
“I thank everybody for 24 years of loving support and prayers,” she said.
The movie business has remained a passion for her through some pretty uncertain times and struggles, but she would not trade the experience.
“I definitely put my heart and soul into it,” she said.
Beyond July 18, Boyd is not sure what the future holds.
“After such, I will be trying to find a buyer, and if no one is interested I will be starting to sell things off in order to try to catch up on taxes and going toward the mortgage still remaining on the business,” she said in her Facebook post.