Soon after it opened in 1999, Kevin Moore and his wife had some dates at MoviE-town.
After not visiting for nearly two decades, the 45-year-old Pequea resident was back inside the Elizabethtown theater Thursday, this time figuring out how to remove the double rows of cloth theater seats he had just bought.
“It’s not much bolted to the floor, but the section is all bolted together, so it’s kind of heavier than we anticipated,” said Moore, who along with a helper determined they could only carry three seats at a time out to a trailer they rented for the day.
Moore, who spent $200 for the 25 seats, said he plans to set up 10 at his house, and find homes for some of the others.
“We’ve been kind of been looking for something for our family room space, and saw this come up,” he said.
Seven months after the Elizabethtown theater’s owners announced its permanent closure, an online auction emptied the 31,000-square foot former car dealership, which is available for lease. Throughout the course of a rainy Thursday, scores of buyers descended on the longtime Elizabethtown theater to remove seats, concessions equipment, posters, signs, projectors, sound systems and other sundry items, including many things that were literally bolted down.
Scenes like this are expected to play out across the country as the pandemic has limited crowd sizes and major movie studios hold off on releasing new films. The National Association of Theatre Owners estimates nearly 70% of small and mid-sized theater companies could be forced to close permanently or file for bankruptcy unless there is additional government assistance.
Pickup day at MoviE-town was overseen by PCI Auction Group, which ran the online auction that ended Tuesday, netting nearly $170,000.
“It certainly did more than what we had thought it would do,” said Jared Mizrahi, owner of PCI Auction Group, an online reseller of restaurant and commercial equipment that has a location in Manheim.
The MoviE-town auction required many buyers to remove items themselves, including signs on the wall, theater screens, and the leather and cloth seats that slowly disappeared through the day.
Josh Helfrich, a 32-year-old UPS deliveryman from Lewisberry, bought nine of the leather-style seats for a personal home theater. Helfrich said he paid $270 for the seats, marveling at their nearly pristine condition.
“I only saw two pieces of gum, that’s it,” said Helfrich, who brought his younger brother Robert along to help remove them and carry them out.
While many items will be incorporated into home theaters, some equipment will find a second life at commercial theaters. Five of the digital projectors, which sold for around $7,000 a piece, were bought by Middletown Cinemas, which operates seven theaters in Orange County, north of New York City.
James Kula, chief executive officer of the theater group, said the projectors will become backups that can be used as parts, as a replacement projectors, or for primary use if they add more screens.
Standing behind the partially disassembled concessions area Thursday, Kula recalled being at MoviE-town nearly seven years ago for another auction. Back then, Kula was bidding on the entire theater, which was being sold off after a bank foreclosed on its original owners who were more than $2 million in debt.
Kula was outbid then by Room One Corp, which paid $1.325 million in January 2014 for the eight-screen theater. The company, which also owned the Cocoaplex Cinema in Hershey, closed that theater last year, and then decided in April to permanently shutter MoviE-town.
Kula said he didn’t have anything bad to say about the company that outbid him whose digital projectors he had just bought. Yet he added that if had been the winning bidder seven years ago, he thinks MoviE-town would still exist.
“If I bought it, I would have run it a different way,” he said.