November 28, 2013

Couple from Strong buy Skowhegan’s Strand Theater

The Dexters bought the historic cinema from John Moore, owner of Narrow Gauge Cinemas.

By Doug Harlow
Staff Writer

SKOWHEGAN — Matt Dexter, 36, owns a plumbing and heating business. His wife Misty, 40, is a physical therapist.

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NOW SHOWING: Misty and Matt Dexter are pictured as the film “Catching Fire” begins in the large theater at the Strand Theater in Skowhegan. The Dexters are the new owners of the business.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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FAMILY AFFAIR: Matt and Misty Dexter with their children Bailey and Max in the lobby of the historic Strand Theater in Skowhegan that the couple purchased last September.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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Now, the Dexters from the Franklin County town of Strong are owners of a piece of Skowhegan history and a centerpiece of downtown business — the historic 1929 Strand Cinema. They purchased the three-theater complex in September from the previous owner, John Moore, owner of Narrow Gauge Cinemas in Farmington.

“We were looking for something supplemental — I want to work inside where it’s warm and dry. I was sick of being cold every winter,” Matt Dexter said. “We were kind of interested in the movie thing once it came along — we never thought about it until there was an opportunity.”

The Dexters, parents of three young children, said they have business and real estate experience and have never run a movie theater before, but they are willing to give it a go as an investment opportunity.

The Strand Theater on Court Street is a classic movie palace with marble walls and terrazzo floor, a composite of marble, quartz, granite, glass, in the lobby and 25-foot ceilings. There is a red brick facade and the original 1920s marquee and narrow box office.

The main theater seats 425 people, while the other two theaters, added in 2005, each seat 145.

Beyond the obvious appeal of having a vintage movie house downtown, visitors recently said it is the ticket prices, first-run, digital quality films and location that keeps them coming back.

On Sunday, during the run of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” more than 220 tickets were sold for the 1 p.m. showing alone.

“I love coming here because it’s very inexpensive, convenient and they have nice popcorn — that’s a plus,” said Jennifer Kunz, of Canaan. “I remember coming here when it was only one theater and I like the fact that they have three now.”

Paula Whittemore, of Cornville, said she and her husband, Jason, have been coming to the Skowhegan Cinema, now The Strand, for more than 20 years.

“It’s beautiful here and it’s affordable for a family,” Paula Whittemore said. “When we have all the kids with us we can afford it and it’s local.”

Tickets are $6 for adults and $4 for children under 12 and people 60 and older. Mondays and matinées also are $4 for all seats. At mainstream movie theaters in Maine, ticket prices average $7-$10 for adults and $6.50-$7.50 for children.

Except for the seasonal Skowhegan Drive-in Theater, the closest movie theaters are in Pittsfield, Farmington and Waterville.

“We’re going to keep those ticket prices and see what operating costs look like,” Matt Dexter said. “I don’t have any intention of going up. We want to keep the locals staying local; I don’t want them driving to Waterville. We try to keep them home with the low price.”

The theater was last known as The Strand in the early 1970s. When Moore purchased the place in 2003 he said he wanted to retain the vintage architecture. He added comfortable seats, put in a new sound system and restored the murals in the original classic movie theater to retain the vintage look.

“I tried to capture the essence of the old-fashioned theater, while adding all the amenities and technological advances of a modern theater,” Moore said at the time. “To that end, we have digital sound, Klipsch speakers and 48 inches of leg room between the rows.”

Moore did not respond to requests for comment on the sale of the theater to the Dexters.

Matt Dexter said the original theater seated about 930 people, but the seats were wooden and narrow, with little leg room. The new place has fewer seats, he said, but the comfort level is a big draw.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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LOYAL CUSTOMERS: Paula and Jason Whittemore, of Cornville, said they have gone to the Strand Theater for 20 years and will continue doing so because of the convenience and reasonable prices.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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NEXT: Matt Dexter works filling orders in the concession room at the Strand Theater in Skowhegan that he and his wife Misty purchased in September.

Staff photo by David Leaming


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