Coveting the Tryon Theatre

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I’m going to talk about the Tryon Theatre, but before I do, I should warn you that I’m a huge movie fan and quite biased on the subject.
On the weekend that Paul and I flew in to shop for a house in the Asheville area three years ago, we landed in Greenville and drove through Tryon on our way to Asheville. We stopped in town for an ice cream and chatted with a local man.
This stop was planned by Paul to introduce me to the town he’d already selected as his first choice for our new home. I was unfamiliar with Tryon, and liked what I saw, but when the local man started bragging about the movie theater, he caught my attention.
Truth be told, if I had my druthers, I’d buy the theater and obsess over it like it was my baby, but I know it would take a lot more than druthers for this to happen. And since I can’t own it and stand out front calling it “my precioussss” all day long, I’ve decided just to go as often as possible and watch the movies.
Barry Flood is the owner of the theater, and the day I heard he’d updated his projector to a very expensive digital version in order to be able to continue to show current movies, I found him having lunch in Lavender Bistro and bowed down in a “we’re not worthy” Wayne’s World posture, thanking him profusely.
Small independently-owned movie theaters are closing all over the country because the expense to switch to digital is cost prohibitive. I knew how lucky we were that Barry was able to go digital and stay open.
When I lived in L.A., I saw movies often–sometimes several times a week, especially during the screening season when studios held free screenings for industry groups, campaigning for awards nominations. These screenings were my favorite perk of being a Screen Actors Guild member. I still take my voting for the SAG Awards very seriously as I know people’s careers can swell dramatically with nominations and wins.
But now I rely on Barry to book the current films, and he does a splendid job. No, I don’t see as many films as I did in L.A., but I still go a lot, and I still love the experience.
In L.A. Paul and I would always try and be at least a half hour early for a film so we could snag our third-row-from-the-front-center seats. Of course here in Tryon, we can stroll in with five minutes to spare and find our favorite seats empty. Only once was someone else in them. We sat a few seats away and fought the urge to give the seat thieves the stink eye.
The historic building isn’t in perfect shape. Frankly, it could use a facelift. But it is still majestic and full of character, and it’s ours.
We’re so fortunate that we have a theater here in a town the size of Tryon. Look around at similar sized towns in the area and you’ll find quaint downtowns lined with beautiful old buildings, but no movie theaters. It’s a rarity.
I ran into one of the women who works the concession stand recently and she said, “Oh hi, large-popcorn-no-butter-large-coke!”
Yes, I’m a regular.
My first job as a teenager was selling popcorn at a movie theater in Asheville. And I spent a few decades working on movie sets in Hollywood. Even though I complain often about the long hours and discomfort of trying to stay dry in the rain, warm in the cold, cool in the heat and awake in the night, it was still movie magic and I loved it.
Now I’m happy to sit in the dark munching popcorn and enjoying whatever film choice Barry’s made for the week. I’ll never tire of it.
And thanks to the newly-formed Polk County Film Initiative, we’ve also had a couple of very fun Hollywood-style screenings of our own, and it seems a Tryon film festival is now in the works for 2015.
I know I’m not the only big Tryon Theatre fan. Even here in August, I still hear friends talk about the Christmas showing of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Thanks to Barry and the Grace Foothills Church, I watched the classic for the first time on a big screen this past December, no charge and with free popcorn and sodas.
Was it as fun as the free Hollywood screenings with movie stars doing Q&As afterwards hoping for a SAG Awards nomination? Oh yes, it was.
This time I was surrounded by friends and neighbors in my favorite theater in my favorite town. Thanks, Barry.
– Susan McNabb

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