A Let Down at the Cinema

Recently, I moved back to my hometown of Roanoke, having spent the past seven years or so in the New River Valley. Overall, I really like Roanoke. It’s not a bad little city, once you figure out where you’re going and how to avoid certain traffic spots in certain times of the day.

My only real complaint, so far, involves the movie theaters in and around Roanoke.

The cinema game in this town is weak, y’all.

Maybe I’m spoiled. Because I’m coming from the Blacksburg/Christiansburg area. A place that has two large multiplexes, one of which has an IMAX theater. Both of those places have incredibly comfortable reclining seats. Those seats are more comfortable than anything I’ve got at home. Those seats make it all the more enticing to pay money to watch a movie on the big screen.

Like I said… spoiled.

The Roanoke area, including the city of Salem, has four cinemas. I’m pretty sure… I don’t think I’m leaving any out.

There’s the Grandin Theater, which shouldn’t even really be a multiplex. It’s one of those old theaters that was remodeled back in the 70s or 80s. When they did that, they closed off the balcony, turning that area into two more, very tiny theaters. I wish they’d tear down those walls and return the Grandin to one huge auditorium with the balcony intact.

Anyway, that’s all we’ll say about the Grandin.

There are two AMC Classic theaters. One is in Salem. The other is behind the mall that no one goes to anymore. Now, I’m not sure how the AMC corporation classifies their different theaters. Judging by the “Classic” theaters we have in our area, I’m guessing that “Classic” means old theaters that AMC really doesn’t want to invest in. No point in updating these places since they’ve been around since the late-80s/early-90s.

These places haven’t been AMC theaters for very long. Just a few years back, they were Carmike theaters. That’s the chain that owned them for a long time. Though, I do recall, before that they were owned by General Cinemas. But I don’t think they’ve existed since some time in the 80s. Feel free to correct me on that. No actual research went into the writing of this post.

Back in the General Cinemas and early Carmike days, they had another multiplex in Roanoke. This one was located inside the mall that people still go to. I think it’s a Barnes & Noble now. Eventually, it was shut down to make room for a larger, separate theater, still close to the mall, but not inside.

This newest theater was brought to us by Regal. And when they first opened up, it was really something special. We’re talking 16 theaters, all with stadium seating. They had arcade games lining the walls of the oversized lobby. Guest services looked like it was the concierge at some fancy hotel.

And it hasn’t changed since the day it opened.

When I moved back to town and went to see a movie there, I couldn’t help but notice how sad the front of the building looked. The walls used to be a deep shade of purple. After years of sun and weather damage, the whole place just looked sick and pale.

The Regal in Christiansburg, after dealing with some serious competition from the IMAX Cinebowl over in Blacksburg, refurbished their entire building. The lobby and concessions got upgraded. All of the seating was replaced, in favor of those super comfortable reclining chairs I mentioned before.

Frank’s (now Paragon) didn’t have the reclining seats. But it didn’t take them long to decide that this was an upgrade they needed, just to keep up with what Regal was doing.

Meanwhile, the Regal in Roanoke, which is, in theory, a larger market, has done nothing to upgrade its building. They couldn’t even spring for a coat of paint for the exterior.

Overall, the theaters in Roanoke really need to step up their game. Except they really have no reason to, do they?

What kept those theaters in the New River Valley in upgrade mode was one trying to outdo the other. Regal and AMC, they’re really the only game in town where Roanoke is concerned. AMC slaps the “Classic” label on their theaters, so you know they’re not going to do anything special to their two places. And if Regal doesn’t have to worry about AMC making any changes, why should they? Because, hey, at least they can still point to the fact that they have stadium seating.

I will say this… I saw It: Chapter Two at Regal on Friday and saw that they’ve finally decided to paint the outside. It’s looking at lot better at the moment. Here’s hoping it’s a sign of more improvements to come. But I don’t think I’ll hold my breath.

Feature Photo by Felix Mooneeram on Unsplash

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