The owner of Eveningstar Cinema, who in the past has warned the theater could go dark, now hopes recent renovations will breathe new life into the nearly 40-year-old business.
The changes, which included replacing the marquee with a digital display, came roughly a year after Barry Norman said he may be forced to close the business at the end of last summer.
His concerns, however, were nothing new.
“I’ve been worried for years,” he said in a recent interview.
In addition to the rise of streaming online services like Netflix and Hulu, Norman said his single-screen venue and an aging core group of customers compounded his troubles.
Most of his “top demographic” of local moviegoers, he said, are older adults who have different movie-watching habits than the generations after them.
“The conveyor belt bringing the next group of seniors in don’t have the same movie-going habits,” he said. “In other words, everyone younger is more computer savvy.”
He described his core clientele, however, as “powerful,” pointing to an instance in 2011 when he screened the film “The King’s Speech” for nine consecutive weeks because the same people kept coming back to see it.
That same sentiment, however, is a double-edged sword: only having one screen often forces Norman to lean toward films that appeal to older customers — movies featuring Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, or Meryl Streep usually do well.
And younger people who go out for a flick, he added, are likely to choose a large theater that offers amenities like a full food menu and recliners to sit in instead of traditional movie seats.
Regardless of age, local movie fans have rallied around Eveningstar in critical times.
In 2013, Norman launched a successful online campaign to raise $50,000 needed to purchase a digital projector, which ultimately saved the theater from closing.
More recently, after failed attempts to expand the business in another location, Norman said upgrading Eveningstar’s features was his best bet.
“I can’t get more screens, I’m established here in Brunswick, I don’t want to start from scratch again, so what can I do?” he said. “I can renovate the theater.”
Along with the new marquee, Eveningstar also now has new seats, carpeting, speakers, and aisle lights, as well as some new concession options, including more local and regional soft drinks.
The theater has also been serving beer and wine since last June.
Some of the recent upgrades were made possible through a partnership with Cloud M.I.S., a Topsham based technology company, and as a result, the single movie theater housed within Eveningstar will be renamed “The CloudMIS Theater.”
Norman said he’s known Ryan Thurston, CEO, and co-owner of Cloud M.I.S., for several years, and had previously purchased audio equipment from a company for which Thurston worked.
That’s why when he was looking for help in upgrading the theater, Norman knew where to turn.
“I went to him (and) said, listen, I’m kind of stuck here,” Norman said.
He added Thurston did not tell him to change the name of the theater, but Norman wanted to offer Cloud M.I.S. something significant in return for the help.
The new chairs, Norman said, are a big upgrade from the original ones from 1979, many of which had broken armrests and cup holders, but are not the recliner style found in many larger theaters.
In addition to being too expensive, he said the fancier chairs would have taken up too much space — even the seats that were purchased reduced the theater’s capacity by 14.
Eveningstar’s push to stay relevant comes less than six months after Bart & Greg’s DVD Explosion, another longtime Tontine Mall staple, closed after 16 years on Jan. 1.
Norman said the store’s closing didn’t necessarily make him more nervous, but there is still no way to know if his theater can avoid the same fate.
“I’m optimistic in the sense that I’ve done all I can do,” he said.