Digital age prompting closure of base theaters

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 20, 2013 at 6:34 pm •  Published: January 20, 2013
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ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. (AP) — Stacey Darling loves watching family movies at the Ellsworth Air Force Base theater in South Dakota because it's so much more affordable than taking her three children to the multiplex in nearby Rapid City.

Darling, whose husband is an airman, has been catching second-run films on base for about 2 1/2 years, and was there Saturday for the theater's last showing — a screening of the animated movie "Hotel Transylvania." The movie theater is among 60 around the globe run by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service that is screening its last picture show amid the industry's conversion to digital projection.

"We always come out for the cartoons," said Darling, of Grand Forks, N.D. "We like the family movies."

Darling said she wishes she could go to the theater even more now that her husband, Senior Master Sgt. David Darling, has deployed to southwest Asia.

It's just not cost effective for the exchange service to invest the $120,000 per theater needed to convert from 35 millimeter film to the new format at the theaters that are being closed, said spokesman Judd Anstey. Sixty theaters will make the upgrade.

"At locations where customer attendance is decreased due to a preference for off-installation entertainment venues, a determination has been made that continued operation is no longer a viable option," Anstey said.

The exchange service runs department-store-style retail outlets, fast-food restaurants, barbers and similar services on military facilities.

Saturday's "Hotel Transylvania" screening at Ellsworth Air Force Base drew about 250 people, thanks in part to the theater forgoing the admission price for its farewell flick.

Teri Marino wishes Ellsworth patrons knew earlier about the closure so they could try to raise the cash needed to save the theater, which showed its first flick in 1969.

Marino, whose husband is a master sergeant living on base, brought her 9-year-old daughter to the final show and was enjoying the camaraderie between the mothers.

"When you're in the military, you're like family," said Marino, 37. "Especially when our husbands are deployed, the mothers — us women — stick together."

Stateside base theaters are limited to second-run movies, which typically have already spent six weeks in an off-base multiplex before. Ticket prices are lower, as is attendance. Base theaters have also been hurt by increased competition from video streaming services and DVD rental kiosks, Anstey said.



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