Rick Steves on why the Edmonds Theater is a community treasure

It offers an extra-large bag of small-town memories, the Edmonds native writes.

Since I was a kid, The Edmonds Theater has been part of what made Main Street the main street in my hometown. In Edmonds, it’s the ferry dock, the theater and the fountain. If I was writing the town up in a guidebook, the chapter would be short … and the town would be a “must-see.”

The theater is filled with memories, from when first Mr. Kniest and then Jacques Mayo — community leaders who ran the theater, it seemed, more to give our town character and charm rather than to make money — would lovingly introduce the featured film in person. I remember the anxious thrill in the old days of knowing that my school buddy had to have the second reel all cued up and then scout for the little “doughnut” to show in the lower corner of the image, indicating one reel is finished and the other needs to roll.

I remember thinking (as if in Animal House), “This is really great,” while helping hoist up the new, state-of-the-art, curved screen — back before the age of giant multiplex movie palaces at the mall. Those were days when, if you knew who was working, you could sneak into the “closed” balcony, which was strewn with beat-up old sofas and delightfully dark. It was big news when the cushier seats replaced what felt like WWII-vintage ones. But thankfully the new comfort didn’t blot out the Mayberry charm.

When I was just starting my business, I’d rent the theater for my all-day Saturday travel lectures. I’d set up a stepladder in the middle of the seats, balance the old projector high, and run my hard-wired “clicker” under the seats to the stage, feeling quite high-tech to be able to advance the slides from that distance. Later, as my company grew, we continued to rent out the theater for an all-day series of “travel festival” classes — filling the place each hour, and then instructing everyone to exit out the alley door so those waiting in the lobby could refill the place quickly for the next presentation. For decades, I’d joke, “The bathrooms are upstairs … they offer a sneak preview of Italy.” As promised, we’d always clear out before the evening’s first movie.

And today, the Edmonds Theater remains the place I favor for enjoying a new movie. Sure, there are fancier places out at the mall. But to buy your ticket from someone who knows your name and to see a movie in a classic old theater on a classic old Main Street with a soft drink and a big bag of popcorn — a moviegoing ritual for 40 years and counting — that’s something to treasure … and to be thankful for.

Like so many beloved businesses, COVID-19 has landed our theater on hard times. These are the small businesses — the labors of love, the moms-and-pops, the plucky entrepreneurial ventures — that give our communities character. This pandemic will take a lot of lives before it’s history. And it threatens to take a lot of the personality out of our towns, too. In that case, the life-saving ventilator is our patronage. If we value these businesses, let’s do what we can to be sure they survive.

Now that our theater is reopening, I’ll see you there.

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