Unfortunately, Vandalia residents were unable to enjoy Squibb’s once-in-a-lifetime performance on the big screen in her own hometown.
Many saw the film at the National Road Interpretive Center’s mini-theater once the film released on DVD. But it wasn’t the same as the silver-screen experience, and Vandalia’s status as a theater-less town was never more evident.
That status will soon change, however, thanks to the efforts of Vandalia native and businessman Rick Cripe.
The owner Precise Construction and the soon-to-open Starmax Theaters – which is being constructed just north of the Vandalia Commons strip mall on Mattes Ave. – addressed a near-capacity crowd of 60 Wednesday at the Vandalia Chamber of Commerce’s monthly meeting.
Cripe spoke passionately about his hometown and the movie experience that Vandalian’s have had to travel more than 20 miles to experience for years.
“It’s the No. 1 leisure activity in the U.S. and we haven’t had that here in Vandalia in a long time,” Cripe said. “I think it’s time people had something else to do. I think it’ll bring people out of their houses, so we’re pretty excited about that.”
The 13,000 square-foot facility was designed by engineer and VCHS graduate Reid Torbeck. It will house four movie screens, all of which will be digital. Three of the screens will be 3-D capable, while the other will be one of only a half dozen laser projection screens in the U.S.
“Those are brand new to the market,” Cripe noted.
The projection screen will be located in the largest of the four theaters, which will have a seating capacity of 220. All of the theaters will have reclining-type seats – some with full back rockers and some with half back rockers – and the front rows will have actual recliners.
Basically, Cripe’s facility will have all of the amenities one might expect from a franchise-style multiplex, but with a small-town, independently-owned feel.
“It’s not a franchise,” Cripe emphasized. “And basically, if you take an AMC theater and squash it down and put four screens in it rather than 10 or 12, that’s what we’re operating as.”
Cripe hopes the facility’s charms extend beyond the actual theaters themselves. Patrons will be greeted at the entrance by a television screen displaying movie times and what is currently playing. There will also be an arcade for the kids, featuring 14 to 16 games.
Cripe took a moment during the meeting to dispel a couple of rumors, the first being that the new theater will feature a drive in.
“You cannot drive in the building,” Cripe said. “If you do, there will be a problem.
“And to clarify again, it’s not Twisters,” said Cripe, referring to the closed-down entertainment complex on Veterans Avenue. “This is a brand-new theater. And I say that because a lot of people don’t know, so I’m here to clarify.”
Cripe and his staff have been working on the project for roughly two years, and it’s been a process that’s included a lot of research – including visits to 16 to 20 theaters – and planning.
“There’s been a lot more to it than, ‘Hey, let’s build a movie theater,’” Cripe said. “It wasn’t an overnight process. It took us about a year to put everything together and feel comfortable.”
A brutal winter and recent rash of rain has slowed progress enough to where Cripe’s initial goal of opening by Memorial Day weekend is unlikely. But he believes the theater will open by late May.
“We were about three months behind where we’d like to be because it’s been a really tough winter,” Cripe said. “But we’re picking up the schedule pretty well. Hopefully by the time the next (Chamber) meeting (May 7), I’d like to invite all you guys for a 15-20 minute tour. That way we can sort of walk through and give a visual of what’s going on.”
Cripe hopes the theater’s website and Facebook pages will be up in running in two or three weeks. He will also start filling out a staff of six to 10 employees in the near future.
Cripe’s wife, Maranatha, will manage the theater and handle the social media aspect of the business, which is not one of Cripe’s fortes.
“Social media I understand is important these days,” Cripe said. “I don’t like it; I don’t know why I don’t like it, but I don’t like it. Still, on a positive note, we’re going to use that as a tool.”
Cripe also indicated that excellent customer service and providing top-quality food and beverages will be cornerstones of his business.
“The last thing we want is for you to be upset about the food,” Cripe said. “You can’t be mad at me if the movie is no good. But you can be mad if the soda and popcorn’s no good, so we’re going to try to make that as good as we can.”
Cripe thanked Vandalia Mayor Ricky Gottman and city officials for selling him the three acres of property needed to open the business at a very fair price, and he hopes that Vandalia will continue to support the project in the future.
“We’re going to need the community’s support,” Cripe said. “This is a very expensive business. This is not a cheap venture.”
Cripe noted that 70 percent of Americans go out to the movies at least once a year and that adults are 2 ½ times more likely to go to the movies than out to a bar or nightclub. It’s an entertainment option that most communities the size of Vandalia enjoy, and one that Vandalians will be able to enjoy again come early summer 2014.
“I’m hoping this brings a better sense of community and brings people together,” Cripe said.
In other business at the meeting:
· Chamber member Gary Manley of Assurance Home Inspection Services talked about the BNI business expo to be held Saturday, April 12, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Vandalia Elementary School. Manley’s business and Chamber members Arab Termite and Pest Control, The Fayette County Fairgrounds, Kaskaskia College and Illinois Real Estate Services will have booths at the expo.
· Chamber president Brock Brannon reminded members that Chris Cavanah will headline a concert at Fayette County Fairgrounds on May 3.
· New Chamber members Sun Loan, Flowers Insurance Center, John H. Crawford and Associates, Sweetbriar Retirement Home, Land of Lincoln Credit Union, Roger Sanders of Emerick Farms and MCS Counseling were recognized.
· June Mahon announced that 83 people from nine different states visited the tourism center in March