Ephrata Main Theatre changing hands

By on May 31, 2017

New Ephrata Main Theatre owner Penn Ketchum will bring in all new equipment and seating but will continue to use the current projectors used in the two-screen theater located at Brossman Business Center, 124 E. Main St.

At the end of the week, Penn and Amiee Ketchum will take control of and begin renovations of the Ephrata Main Theatre.

Owners Steve and Karen Brown, who’ll open the theater for one last weekend, had struggled with tepid ticket sales and were unable to renovate and install modern seating that theatergoers prefer.

Penn Ketchum, who said the theater would operate independently of his involvement in two Penn Cinema theaters in Lititz and Wilmington, Del., plans to remove the current seats and install about 90 new high-back leather “rockers” in each of the two auditoriums.

The new seats, which will have cup-holders and seat backs “that rock with you for extra comfort,” will be in place when “The New Ephrata Main” opens June 15 with the opening of Disney’s Cars 3.

Though Ketchum has not disclosed how much ticket prices may rise, “matinees, children, seniors and military will stay at $8 per ticket.”

The Browns, who have operated the theater since January 2010, also operate Lily’s on Main restaurant which is adjacent to the theater located in Brossman Business Center, 124 E. Main St. The change will not affect the restaurant and the Browns will continue to operate it as they have from the beginning.

The couple said they are happy to “pass the torch” to Ketchum who’ll make similar capital improvements to the Main and the theaters in Lititz. The Browns said the Ephrata theater is vital to the community and the downtown area.

They said the decision to cease operations “wasn’t that difficult.”

“What would have been difficult would be to see the Ephrata Main Theatre go dark,” said Steve Brown.

The Ketchums bring a wealth of knowledge and experience operating an independently-owned movie theater, Steve Brown said. Penn is managing partner among principles who own Penn Cinema.

Penn said the couple has enormous respect for the history of the Main. In fact, before they built Penn Cinema, Penn says that The Ephrata Main was his favorite “go-to” movie theater.

“It is our intention to show our respect for the rich history of the Main by bringing it up to modern standards while keeping it an affordable place for families to go have fun together,” he said.

The Browns had warned the theater was in trouble in November when Steve alerted the community that the theater would close if it didn’t increase ticket sales by about 8,000 per year.

A Go-Fund-me account, set up in November by friends of the theater to help pay off the digital projectors and help offset the theater’s lease payments to Windstream, helped keep the Main afloat for a few more months.

Still, Steve Brown feared consistently sluggish ticket sales would continue and had contacted Ketchum about six months ago to discuss his possible takeover of the theater.

Ketchum credited the Browns, whom he has become good friends with, for stepping up to keep the historic two-screen theater open in 2010.

“The theater was in real trouble when Steve and Karen took it over,” he said. “(They) deserve a gold star for the work that they’ve done to keep that theater open for seven years.”

Karen Brown said the couple can get back to running the restaurant and spending time with their three children: Lily who graduated from high school last year; and high school students Olivia and David.

The family stepped up to operate both businesses when pancreatitis put Steve in the hospital for the month of March, a very stressful period.

“We’re actually very excited to hand it over to Penn,” Karen said. “We can move forward. We did what we could with the digital conversion. I’m thankful now that we can just focus on the restaurant and Steve getting better.’

Still, she said the family is grateful to have been involved with the theater and the relationships forged while operating it.

“The hardest part of letting the theater go is (losing) the connection we made with the people who would come in and the appreciation that Ephrata has for this theater and dedication to keeping it open,” she said. “They love it and want it to succeed.”

The historic Main goes back to 1938, when it opened at 124 E. Main St. It was owned and operated by the Stiefel Brothers Roxy Theater Circuit. By the 1980s, the glorious Theater was a fading star, showing second-run movies. Worn and dilapidated, it closed in May 1990.

But the theater building was purchased by the local Denver and Ephrata Telephone Company. Engineers determined that renovating the theater would not be possible. A new theater was included in plans for the new Brossman Business Complex. Many of architectural and design features were preserved. In November 1993, the Main Twin Theater reopened. One Theater was called the Grand with a stage for live presentations, while the other is the Roxy, both named after former Ephrata theaters.

Windstream purchased D&E Communications and the building in 2009. In November of that year, Windstream announced plans to move the former D&E headquarters out of the Brossman building and lay off about 70 percent of the work force which fueled rumors that the Main, also might close.

But that’s when the Browns stepped in, mixing the restaurant and theater, even offering beer and cocktails.

The exchange in ownership will not include the liquor license so the New Ephrata Main will not serve drinks.

Both theaters will be reduced in seating by about half .

Ketchum said he wouldn’t rule out offering other live events such as concerts as the Brown had. But he said the New Main Theater’s priority is first-run movies.

“You know I mean that doesn’t mean that we have to do everything that has always been done,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that we won’t make changes and will improve on things.

Brown said the goal is to “get to know our customers as we get to know downtown Ephrata and community “around here we will start to collect suggestions and ideas.”

“So for example I know that White Christmas (movie) is a popular tradition around here and we will absolutely continue that tradition,” he said. “It’s a really important part of the downtown and we’re not coming into this with half a commitment. We’re fully vested.”

The new theater will be looking for some part-time staff and information will soon be available on its website www.thenewmain.com.

Ketchum, a life-long movie buff, said movies are especially important for kids and the theater brings families together is a distinct way.

“We are all about families having a good time together,” he said. “Families having a good time together in Downtown Ephrata? Even better.”

Currently King Arthur and Alien Covenant are playing at the Ephrata Main and only Alien Covenant will be shown Friday, Saturday and Sunday. For times and information checkout its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/EphrataMainTheatre/?hc_ref=PAGES_TIMELINE

Also all Ephrata Main gift certificates not used by Sunday will be honored at Lily’s on Main

Patrick Burns is a staff writer for The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns.eph@lnpnews.com or at 721-4455.¶

 

 

 

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One Comment

  1. Lily

    May 31, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    Can’t even express how exciting this is! We love our little town’s theatre and are THRILLED that it will continue to stay open. Ephrata is up and coming y’all!

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