Delaware's Strand Theatre: Nonprofit showcases Bring Your Own Movie program

Paul Comstock
ThisWeek
Strand Theatre employee Vaughn Duncan, a Delaware resident and Ohio Wesleyan University student, serves some popcorn during a Bring Your Own Movie showing at the cinema, 28 E. Winter St. in Delaware.

At the Strand Theatre, which has operated since 1916, the show must go on.

With creative marketing and community support, the nonprofit Strand, 28 E. Winter St. in Delaware, continues to weather the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, said managing director Tracey Peyton.  

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine had announced the Ohio Department of Health’s orders to close all cinemas as the pandemic erupted last spring, and movie showings resumed in the summer as DeWine announced businesses would be allowed to reopen.

COVID-19 cases began to skyrocket in October, and the Strand again stopped showing first-run movies in early November, Peyton said.

Despite that setback, the Strand has been able to keep about 90% of its employees, losing only those who had moved or live away from Delaware, said Peyton, the Strand's only full-time employee.  

That has occurred, in part, thanks to a type of movie showing that didn't exist before the pandemic, she said.

It's the Strand's Bring Your Own Movie program, which lets groups of family members and friends bring their own DVDs to be played on a Strand screen and sound system, with the concession stand open.  

"We've had great success with it," Peyton said of the roughly 30 such showings. "It's doing well for a couple of reasons. People are afraid to go out. They're not afraid to go out with friends or family. So they get to go see a movie with the people that they trust and they know. They get to see what they want. You get the concessions, and you get the theater all to yourself.”

Patrons also may craft an event around a film showing, she said.

One example is when a woman and her boyfriend were among a group that had scheduled a showing of "The Grinch." The woman thought they were there to celebrate a friend's birthday.

About 30 minutes into the showing, the movie suddenly was replaced by a series of photos of the woman and her boyfriend, followed by "Will You Marry Me?" on the screen.

At that moment, other viewers turned on a snow machine they had brought with them.

"It was pretty darn cool," Peyton said, adding that the bride-to-be said yes.

Another source of income is the theater's marquee.

Peyton said one side of the marquee may be rented for a day to those who want to post a message. 

When warmer weather returns, the Strand will bring back its curbside popcorn sales, she said.

Joe Pemberton, president and CEO of Suburban Natural Gas and president of the Strand Theatre and Cultural Arts Association board of directors, cited the Bring Your Own Movie program as an example of Peyton seeking new ways to share the Strand experience with the community.

Local attorney Stephen D. Martin with Manos, Martin & Pergram Co. LPA is the association's counsel and said, "Tracey Peyton has done a tremendous job in finding ways for the Strand to be able to still provide a movie-theater experience ... and generate revenue."  

Peyton said other theaters were using the Bring Your Own Movie concept before the Strand tried it.

The community and loyal Strand devotees also are playing a part in the theater's continuing survival, Peyton said.

In Delaware County's 2020 Community Enhancement Grant program for nonprofits, the county commissioners announced a grant of $68,000 to the Strand, she said.

The Strand also received two grants – about $500 and $4,000 – from the Community Foundation of Delaware County, she said.

Additionally, a GoFundMe campaign for the Strand topped its goal of $50,000 and still is taking donations, Peyton said.  

Pemberton said the grants and donations are examples of "the immense generosity that has been shown to this theater through so, so many individual and collective contributions."

"The Strand is a tremendous historic asset for downtown Delaware. ... Tracey Peyton has provided tremendous leadership in developing creative ways to bring people to the Strand," said Rock Jones, president of Ohio Wesleyan University and a Strand board member. "I look forward to the time when COVID is behind us."

In November, Peyton said, before the Strand and other smaller cinemas could resume first-run movies, “cinemas in Los Angeles and New York City will need to reopen so that the schedule of new film releases remains secure."

The Strand and many other cinemas are monitoring pandemic conditions with the help of the National Association of Theater Owners, Peyton said Jan. 6.

"Every week since the pandemic began in March, we've had a weekly webinar where we hear from the experts in the industry, including the president and CEO of NATO (John Fithian), our attorneys from NATO, our marketing folks," Peyton said. "They keep us abreast of everything. Often times, we're the first to know what movies are moving, when they're moving and why they're not moving or why they did move, and we hear industry information from various studios."  

NATO's work led to the Cinema Safe program, which promotes protocols and guidelines developed and supported by epidemiologists to support a safe return to cinemas, she said.

Peyton said the theater is owned by the Strand Theatre and Cultural Arts Association, an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.  

For more on the Strand, including scheduling Bring Your Own Movie showings, go to thestrandtheatre.net. The GoFundMe page is at charity.gofundme.com/o/en/campaign/strandsafe. For more on Cinema Safe, go to cinemasafe.org.

editorial@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNews