THE CREDITS ROLLED. The lights returned. Yet most of us had a hard time leaving the Park Terrace theater.
Two hours earlier, we trickled into the theater in ones and twos. The choice of film—My Friend Dahmer—kept the occasion from descending into sentiment at first. But on the way out, strangers became friends as we consolidated into a small group for an impromptu wake in the lobby. We took pictures of each other by the concession stand. We said bad things about the company that didn’t renew the theater’s lease without explanation. In a quiet moment, we couldn’t help but overhear two employees upstairs near the projection booth, both sobbing. “It just won’t be the same, you know?” one said. Downstairs, we listened while staring at our shoes. We knew. It wasn’t just another night of movies. It was the last night. The last movie.
More than 4,500 people signed an online petition to save the 53-year-old art house movie theater in Park Road Shopping Center. But that night, just 19 of us were there for its final show. My friend Scott and I were among them. We’d watched so many movies in that theater that it felt less like the theater was closing and more like it was breaking up with us.
Scott and I were the last guests to leave the theater. Outside, a few small groups lingered by the trademark neon sign. We tucked our necks into our coats, pushed our hands into our pockets, and lingered awhile, too.
What makes a landmark a landmark? Why do the closings of some places cause gripes, and others cause mourning? What makes strangers stand together on a cold Sunday night, just to look up at a neon sign one last time?