July 8, 2013

Save the Taylor: How One Small Town Didn’t Let Its Historic Screens Go Dark

“Save the Taylor.” The people of Edenton rescued town icon Taylor Theatre from closing down.

As the pace of world continues to only get faster, small movie theaters all across America are vanishing from our landscape. Film companies are requiring theaters to convert from 35mm to digital by the end of the year. The theaters that cannot afford the $65,000 minimum conversion cost are closing their doors. “Convert or die” is the new reality for many small-town movie theaters.

However, the people in the historic town of Edenton, North Carolina refused to let this happen to their beloved Taylor Theatre.

With a population of only 5,000, Edenton is small in size but mighty in spirit and motivation to save a place near and dear to the community’s heart. Having lived in Edenton my whole life, I am happy to share the story of the people in my town who saved the Taylor Theatre.

The Taylor Theatre, built in 1925 by a leading architect of eastern North Carolina, Charles Collins Benton, originally opened as an opera house. This Colonial Revival and Neo-Classical Revival Style theater was later converted into a twin cinema around 1980.

After closing down for a few short years, the Taylor was reopened in 1990, much to the delight of local moviegoers. Today when you walk in the Taylor you feel as though you’ve been transported back in time; the interior is amazingly unaltered from the ‘90s and nightly shows still cost only $7.00.

To remain in business, the owner of the Taylor Theatre needed $150,000 by the end of 2013 to purchase the new digital equipment for both theaters. The people of Edenton heard the Taylor’s cry for help and sprang into action.

Mason jars were set up in local downtown businesses to collect change, and signs saying “Save the Taylor” were posted on every store front. With over 2,000 likes on Facebook, the Taylor practically became famous. Locals even filmed commercials staring members of the community to be shown before every movie played at the Taylor.

The Digital Conversion Campaign was organized and led by an Edenton local, Jeanie Cumby. Through Jeanie’s efforts, the people of Edenton began to take further action to save the Taylor by hosting a kickoff party in November of 2012. It wasn’t a typical fundraiser, but rather a town-wide event. Local restaurants donated homemade soup, and over 400 people attended the event and purchased bowls with the logo “Save the Taylor.”

The best part? During the kickoff party, it was announced that a “challenge gift” from an anonymous donor would give the gift of $100,000 as long as the people of Edenton could raise the remaining funds needed.

On May 14, Scott Creighton and Andrew Bergeron announced at a Town Council Meeting that their company, Colony Tire, had made the donation. When asked why, Creighton and Bergeron said “Edenton is very blessed and fortunate not only to be thriving but to actually have a movie theater that can play current movies just like in the big city. We feel it is a great investment and money well spent.”

Creighton and Bergeron announce their $100,000 donation and present it to the Mayor of Edenton on May 14, 2013.

Citing their respect and admiration for Edenton, both Creighton and Bergeron are “very happy that kids [in the community] will be able to remember the experiences of walking to the movies, which is not the norm in today’s society.” They hope “these memories will draw them home one day.”

Mayor Roland Vaughan also announced that along with the donation from Colony Tire, “197 citizens and businesses wrote checks to the campaign that totaled $50,462, and an untold number contributed coins and dollars bills that raised $7,185.”

The campaign now had all the money needed to save the Taylor. So the Town of Edenton, with the advice of the Institute Government in Chapel Hill, stepped forward to purchase the equipment. The town now owns the digital equipment and leases it to Taylor’s owner, Bob Krochmal, for just a dollar a year.

Through the leadership of the Town Council and Edenton’s dedicated citizens, the Taylor Theatre will continue to operate as the local business it has always been. In addition, it will be used for town events throughout the year.

As Jennifer Harriss, Edenton’s Main Street Director, put it, “When I heard that the theater had to convert to digital, I knew in my heart that the people of Edenton would not allow the theater to fail, as it is a vital part of the fabric that makes our downtown.”

Saving the Taylor Theatre was a community effort to help a local business and historic building survive in this changing world. So go out and save your community’s Taylor Theatre -- because as Edenton shows, numbers do not have to be limiting.

Annie Gray Dixon is from Edenton, North Carolina and a graduate of Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia. She will be going to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in the fall and plans on pursuing historic preservation.

By: Annie Gray Dixon

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