By Derek Tyson
The Welch News Editor
WELCH, W.Va. – Last week, Welch’s City Council voted to take over the local movie theater in downtown Welch in advance of an expiring contract with Marquee Cinemas.
“Marquee Cinemas’ contract ends in March 2021 and they wanted out,” said City Business Development Specialist Jason Grubb. “Marquee approached the Building Commission, offering to donate all the equipment inside if the City would take it over.”
The Building Commission approved and the City Council’s vote Wednesday sealed the deal.
“Without Marquee (Cinemas), this wouldn’t happen. They made it possible,” said Grubb about an approximate donation of $300,000 in equipment from the theater chain. “They didn’t want us to lose the theater but given the economic climate right now, they couldn’t afford to maintain it.”
More than just a takeover, the City seeks to rebrand the theater as The Pocahontas Theater, a callback to Welch’s premier theater that opened Christmas Day, 1928.
“All my life, I heard about how great the Pocahontas (Theater) was and I hope we can create a semblance of that,” said Grubb.
While the original Pocahontas Theater was torn down years ago, Grubb managed to locate a key piece of the place, still intact after all these years: the Wurlitzer Pipe Organ.
“If everything goes right, I’ll have that organ in there soon,” said Grubb, looking forward to traveling to St. Louis to retrieve it. “It’s important because it will tie the current theater back to the original Pocahontas Theater.”
According to a report in The Welch Daily News circa 1928, an approximate value of the organ in 1928 was $20,000, making it one of the most expensive and largest organs in West Virginia. Before the advent of “talkies,” movies with recorded dialogue, organs like this one were played during screenings to supply music to the film.
The City also will keep current staff employed during the transition, reporting nearly two months of work to sort out contracts with studies and film booking.
With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing, the theater will also shift to a weekend schedule, operating on Friday, Saturday and Sunday each week.
“The Mayor wants to have a Saturday morning cartoon for the kids each weekend,” said Grubb. “The plan is to reduce ticket and concession prices. We also want to serve West Virginia hot dogs and pepperoni rolls for a local-focused experience.”
Grubb said he also hopes rebranding the theater will stimulate growth in downtown Welch, attracting new businesses to the area.
“We could do a film festival showcasing locally made films, you could have concerts in there, plays, you name it,” said Grubb. “Being an independent theater gives you that freedom.”
Grubb anticipates movie releases continuing to be delayed due to COVID-19, expecting things to improve in the third quarter of the year.
“There will be so many releases, we should be able to pick and choose what we want,” said Grubb. “We can show movies you can’t see everywhere else, attracting film buffs to Welch to watch a cult classic.”
“The City of Welch is happy that we will be able to continue a long tradition with The Pocahontas Theater in downtown Welch,” said Mayor Harold McBride. “We look forward to seeing you at the movies.”