Movie theater in Berwick Pennsylvania is facing a dilemma. The Berwick Theater must convert to a digital projection system within the next year or so. If it does not it will no longer be able to show movies because Hollywood will no longer distribute films on..film.
This same situation is being repeated all over the United States as small town theaters and drive in movies must either “go digital or go dark”. Quite often the local citizens will rally around the theater and work with its owner to raise the 60 – 100 thousand dollars that is needed for a digital conversion. Sometimes though a solution cannot be found and theaters do go dark and, when that happens, we all lose a piece of our history.
Movie Theater History
The Berwick Theater was built in 1890 by the Patriotic Order Sons of America as an opera house. In the early 1900’s it was operated as a playhouse and was renamed the Lyric and later the Palace.
In the 1920’s it became the Strand and became a movie theater for the first time. The Berwick Theater operated as a movie theater into the 1930’s. In 1969 there were major renovations done to the building and the look it got then is what it retains until this day.
The Berwick Theater was purchased in 1971 by Vincent DiAugustine, a local businessman, who remained the owner until his death last summer. Operation of the theater was taken over by Vincent’s granddaughter Renee DiAugustine-Bower.
Renee is only 22 years old but she has expressed her determination to keep his movie theater in operation. She says that she promised her 88 year old grandfather that she would find a way to keep the theater in operation when he was on his deathbed and she intends to keep that promise.
Berwick Pennsylvania formed as a small town with an economy based on heavy industry. They are famous for their mile long “Christmas Boulevard” which features lights and live and mechanical displays during Christmas season. In addition they are the home of the Berwick Bulldogs high school football team which has won the state championship 6 times and national championship 3 times.
The downtown business district was the focus of community life in terms of shopping and entertainment. Even today the theater serves as an anchor for the downtown business district in the same way that a theater in a mall serves as an anchor store.
Plans For The Future
There are already plans in place for the future of The Berwick Theater. Renee (DiAugustine-Bower) says that she wants to stick to her grandfather’s policy of keeping the prices as low as possible so that it is available to everyone in the town. She has other plans too. She wants to look into hosting an indie film festival and showing indie films. In addition she wants to bring in indie bands and host other types of events for the community.
In her own words; “There are two major reasons why I won’t give up on this theater. The first is one of the last things that my grandfather said to me, before he passed away. My Pop said to me: “Renee, how I am I going to keep the theater open?” “I have to make that digital conversion”. I gave my Pop my word that I would continue his legacy, and I truly believe that’s what let him rest.”
“I will not give up this battle without my best effort. The second reason I won’t give up, is because of the absolutely incredible response that my family and I received when I let our Facebook followers know about the passing of my grandfather. Berwickians from all over, came forward to let us know that they had our back if we were to continue with the Berwick Theater.”
The keyword in this story is community. Renee said that she wants to keep the community involved with the theater and the movie theater involved with the community. To raise the funds that are needed to convert the theater to digital she created a campaign on Indiegogo, the crowdfunding site. If you would like to learn more about the Theater or the campaign just click on the link to her campaign.