S. Crandell had a notion and acted on it. On
Christmas day 1926 the Crandell Theatre opened for business on Main
Street in Chatham, New York. The original marquee was actually a
simple vertical sign. In the 1930’s a true marquee was constructed,
fashioned in a style similar to the Biograph Theatre in Chicago
where Public Enemy #1 John Dillinger was gunned down by G-Man Melvin
The original interior style of the 534 seat theatre was Spanish
stucco and remains virtually unchanged today. The two balcony bays
above the exits, on either side of the stage, were originally intended
to house organs for silent pictures, but the advent of talkies relegated
them to little more than decorative style.
Born in Chatham, Anthony Quirino had a passion for movies. As a
kid he hung around the theatre and at nine was given a job, a buck-fifty
a week and all the free movies he could watch. At sixteen he became
the relief projectionist, then came World War II.
On leave Anthony met and fell in love Betty. After the war they
were married and settling down in Alabama near Betty’s family.
One day a job offer came, to be chief projectionist at the Crandell
theatre. They moved to Chatham. By 1952 Anthony was the theatre’s
manager. Television threatened to close the Crandell in late the
‘50’s, so in 1960 Anthony and Betty bought it; with
hard work the theatre survived.
Betty is also an artist, a very talented artist. “She was
always packing up her easel and driving out into the county to paint,”
recalls son and current owner Tony. Betty’s paintings adorn
the walls of the Crandell; one in particular grabs my eye. Near
the stairs to the balcony is an exceptional gold framed painting.
Illness forced Betty to stop painting, but her work is there for
us to enjoy.
Anthony and Betty retired in 1985. Tony, an electrician by trade,
took over. He worked at the theatre as a kid, even opened and closed
the curtain by hand. “I love movies,” admits Tony, “but
nobody has the same deep passion my father had.” When his
parents return from Florida each summer, Anthony, now 80, still
helps out a couple days a week.
In this time of big barn, multi-plex madness the Crandell is a refreshing
dose of simplicity and honesty. It is a family business, a family
place, its character makes it so very attractive. In one way it’s
a return to the past, in another, a return to reality.
Popcorn is fresh popped at the Crandell and comes in three sizes,
$1.25, $1.50, and $2.50. Tickets are $3.50. There’s one screen,
not eight or twelve or eighteen. Tony Quiniro isn’t getting
rich, just making a good living, enjoying the life and providing
a great service to the community he loves.
“What’s the most fun running the Crandell?”
Tony smiles, “The people. I love the different reactions to
the films, when they applaud at the end of a film or watching people
leave affected by a film that touches them or meeting people from
all walks of life. It’s the atmosphere and big screen they
tracks box office figures on the internet now, even books his films
that way. “I play one film at a time, so I can be pretty picky.”
He’s two to three weeks behind most film’s opening dates,
which actually gives him the chance to gauge what will play and
what won’t. “Seabiscuit” and “Pirates of
the Caribbean” were the top grossing films at the Crandell
in 2003. I tell Tony I love it when I see people lined up down Main
Street to see a film. “Me too,” he smiles. Part of the
smile is about good receipts, but an equal part is because he’s
happy to see people enjoying the Crandell.
I grew up in an Illinois town the size of Chatham. Going to the
town’s one movie theatre was my favorite thing to do. Walking
past the theatre, the smell of fresh made popcorn pulled you into
the lobby. I remember walking with my grandmother to that theatre
to see a re-release of “The Wizard of Oz,” remember
diving under my seat when the flying monkeys came after Dorothy
and her friends.
In this video/DVD age we consume our cinema on the small screen,
a screen much smaller than us. Films are larger than life and need
to be experienced that way. Size matters. Nothing is as powerful
as the big screen. To sit in a large darkened room with 533 other
people and view the flickering image on a screen many times larger
than you, is captivating and magical. The film consumes you, transports
you. Comedy is funnier when surrounded by hundreds of others in
the dark and tears shed there, more deeply touch your soul. The
atmosphere experienced in a place like the Crandell is irreplaceable.
It’s reassuring to know Tony and the Crandell are in it for
the long run, “I ain’t going anywhere, I’ll be
We’ll talk next time From The Road.
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