Adding entertainment helps raise a borough's profile, too

Matt Schultz, Executive Director Historic Lansdowne Theater Corporation, backstage with the original 1927 marquee letters for the theater.

Restaurants have played an oversized role in the reemergence of some of the region's small towns from post-industrial decline. Media is a good example, as are West Chester and Doylestown.

All three had the built-in advantage of being seats of county government with a captive lunchtime audience, yet each has developed a life after dark that draws diners from surrounding towns, plus those farther away.

What about dinner and a movie, or maybe a show? Theaters have become yet another draw to towns such as these.

There's Knauer Center for the Performing Arts at West Chester University, the County Theater in Doylestown, and the Media Theatre in, of course, Media.

The nonprofit Media Theatre stages five Broadway musicals and a host of children's productions annually.

"We do not go as often as we would enjoy," said Jeanne Vaquez, who lives in nearby Middletown Township.

The County Theater, also nonprofit, offers independent and art films and other productions.

"It is popular and much used," said Frank Dolski, of Coldwell Banker Hearthside Real Estate in Lahaska, who frequents the County. "It is kind of old-time cooking."

John Toner is executive director of the County, as well as the Ambler Theater, the Hiway in Jenkintown, and the Princeton Garden Theatre, yet each has its own local board of directors.

Although some theaters experienced brief or extended shutdowns during their history, others, such as the Spanish Renaissance-style Narberth, have always been in operation showing first-run movies, despite changing owners over the years.

"The movie theater is very popular," said John Duffy, president of Duffy Real Estate in Narberth and St. Davids. "It is very important to the 'walkability' aspect of Narberth and also helps the restaurants."

In Phoenixville, the 1903 Colonial Theatre was brought back from the brink through a multiyear effort by volunteers and the generosity of private donors, businesspeople, and grants.

The place made famous by the late 1950s sci-fi cult classic The Blob didn't have much in the way of other nightlife at first, but since then the area - Bridge Street, in particular - has come a long way, according to longtime resident Peter Fey, with almost a dozen restaurants.

In addition to the July "Blobfest," Fey said, the Colonial offers a lineup of independent and classic films and live shows.

The Sellersville Theater, paired with the Washington Hotel and Restaurant, has become a go-to concert venue for Bucks and Montgomery Counties.

The Lansdowne Theater operated from 1927 to 1987, and despite deferred maintenance retains the feeling of a 1920s movie palace, even though it is being restored for other uses, including film showings by the nonprofit that acquired it in 2007.

Since then, said executive director Matt Schultz, the corporation has stabilized the building by fixing leaks in the roof, installing a fire-detection system throughout, and bringing the office and retail spaces into compliance with building codes.

With funding provided by the Delaware County Council, the Lansdowne's marquee was restored in 2012.

The acoustics and relatively small number of seats have attracted the interest of music promoters, Schultz said: It's an ideal venue not for a high-priced Bruce Springsteen concert, but for, say, a show by Rosanne Cash.

The thought of 1,300 patrons looking for someplace to eat in Lansdowne has resulted in new restaurants anticipating the eventual reopening of the theater.

With the rehabilitation of the retail and office spaces in the building, 19 permanent jobs have been created.

Two businesses have opened near the theater, employing eight people. Both opened nearby with the goal of serving an anticipated 100,000 patrons annually.

The theater serves as the anchor for the local business district, he said.

"Think of what having 1,300 theater patrons here four nights every week will do," said Schultz, who has lived in Lansdowne since he was 8.

aheavens@phillynews.com

215-854-2472

@alheavens

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