Aroostook County movie theaters risk closing from low attendance

Aroostook County movie theaters risk closing from low attendance

CARIBOU, Maine — One of Aroostook’s four movie theaters will close after losing most of its audience.

The Caribou Theater will likely stop showing movies in the coming months, according to owner Arlen Dow.

Fans don’t show up like they did before the pandemic. As Hollywood relies more on streaming and produces fewer cinema-worthy blockbusters, theaters have struggled to get people into seats. If the Century Theater in Fort Kent makes its temporary closure permanent, residents of North Caribou County will have to travel to Près Isle to see movies.

Faced with rising operating costs and an uncertain economy, local owners wonder how long they can keep going.

“From June to December 2022, we sold 6,900 tickets to Caribou. We’ve sold just under 17,000 in Almost Isle,” Dow said.

Low traffic in downtown Caribou prompted Dow to scout potential buyers for the four-screen Caribou Theater on Sweden Street. He hopes someone will repurpose the building.

Dow and his family also own the Braden Theater in Almost Isle, which is still financially stable enough to continue operating, he said.

While “Top Gun: Maverick” led to sold-out opening week shows at The Braden last May, the same film failed to draw significant crowds at Caribou. Movies like “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “Avatar: The Way of Water” drew hundreds of fans to Almost Isle, but not to Caribou, Dow said.

The Caribou Theater is located on Sweden Street. Once a bustling business district, the area is now home to offices and a few specialty shops.

The town has struggled to attract retail to Sweden Street since several large stores left following the closure of Loring Air Force Base in 1994. Many longtime residents have also blamed the Downtown Mall, a complex created in the 1970s that aimed to energize the neighborhood. but instead emptied the business district.

With few stores to attract customers, the area doesn’t appeal to moviegoers, Dow said. The Dow Theater Company received some COVID relief money, but it wasn’t enough to sustain business, especially in Caribou.

“If you look out the window here, you’ll see a steady stream of traffic,” Dow said while at the Braden in Près Isle. “But people just don’t come back to Caribou.

Dow purchased and renovated The Braden in 2008. The historic theater was a landmark in downtown Près Isle until it closed in 1994 due to competition from an eight-screen theater near the Aroostook Mall. When that theater closed in 2005, Dow knew it wanted to restore The Braden as a must-see movie destination.

He bought the Caribou Theater in 2010. But with fewer people showing up, Dow now operates just three of the screens and often plays the same movies as The Braden.

Sometimes there are as few as five people in a movie, he said.

In the Saint-Jean Valley, lack of attendance has closed the Century Theater, and owner Ben Paradis is unsure when it might reopen. It could also be at risk of closing permanently, Paradis said.

Paradis purchased the Century in 2014 from another family member. He closed it during the pandemic and reopened in the summer of 2021 with the help of his granddaughter, Anna Paradis, and her boyfriend, Brandon Goding, who run the theater as volunteers with others. community members.

Attendance has not matched pre-pandemic levels. He and the family opted to close the theater two weeks ago to reassess their options. They could turn the theater into a nonprofit so it could be run by volunteers, Paradis said.

The theater operates as the Plourde Century Theater, named after former owner Jeff Plourde.

With the exception of “Top Gun: Maverick,” fans haven’t shown up like they have in the past, Paradis said. On average, 75 people per week visited the two-screen theatre. He blamed the low attendance on people streaming movies at home during the pandemic.

“There hasn’t been as much incentive to go to the movies,” he said.

Charlie Fortier, owner of the Temple Theater in Houlton since 2016, has seen a similar trend since it reopened in the summer of 2021.

Although it’s not planning to close any time soon, fewer people are going to the cinema as there are few Hollywood blockbusters. “Top Gun” did well, but “Avatar” didn’t do as well as he had hoped, Fortier said.

Part of the problem is how Hollywood distributes the movies, he said. Studios often require a small theater like its to run a blockbuster for four weeks, even if people stop showing up. This often prevents him from acquiring another film that might work well locally.

Fortier hopes upcoming films like “80 For Brady,” “Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” and “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” will attract more audiences.

“[Whether we stay open] will depend on whether people come back and whether we earn enough to cover our costs,” Fortier said. “You have to heat the building, whether four or 100 people show up.”

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