SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

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May 17, 2013

Can Cabot Street theater be saved?

Owners weigh in on sale of venue

BEVERLY — Whoever buys the Cabot Street Cinema Theatre will be taking on a big challenge, but local theater owners say the historic movie palace could remain a viable business under a creative new owner.

The fate of the downtown theater is now in question after Wednesday’s announcement that it is up for sale. The current owners kept the theater operating for 37 years with a combination of movies and the popular Le Grand David and His Own Spectacular Magic Company show.

Without a magic show to fill the seats on weekends, a new owner will have to find creative ways to supplement the movie business.

“If it were 1920 or even 1950 it would be a no-brainer, but nowadays it’s a much bigger challenge,” CinemaSalem owner Paul Van Ness said. “But I feel people still love going to the movie theater, especially a place like that.”

The theater’s sale price is $1.35 million. The building also includes two street-level office spaces and retail or office spaces on the second floor.

The most marketable aspect of the building, of course, is the architectural splendor of the theater, which was built in 1920 in the grand style of the thousands of theaters that went up during the vaudeville era.

But many of those theaters have gone out of business or have been demolished, victims of competition from modern multiplexes.

“Most of those types of theaters are completely gone or have been split into eight little theaters,” Van Ness said. “But once you do that, you kind of destroy the beauty of it.”

Bill Hanney, the North Shore Music Theatre owner who also owns eight movie theaters in New England, said it’s difficult for theaters with a single screen, like the Cabot, to compete.

“If you’ve got a first-run movie, they make you commit to playing it for three to four weeks,” Hanney said. “Over 12 months you can only play 12 to 15 movies per year.”

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