The Crandell

Walter 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 Purvis.

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 love.”

Tony 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 right here.”

We’ll talk next time From The Road.

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