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It's a wrap for Ambridge Family Theatre

| Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, 12:07 a.m.

Even if someone raises money to revive a shuttered Ambridge movie theater, owner Rick Cockrum said the show must go on without him and his wife Glenda.

“We're just tired,” Cockrum said on Friday. “We're going to miss it a whole lot, but we're tired.”

The couple closed the Ambridge Family Theatre on Merchant Street on Thursday because equipment that feeds 35mm film into the projector broke on Sunday. The last of thousands of films shown during the theater's 47-year history was “Maleficent” with Angelina Jolie.

“We've talked about (closing) for a while,” Cockrum said. “We've known about this because of the change to digital projection. We really didn't think we'd be able to stay open this long.”

Cockrum, 56, is a service coordinator for the Beaver County Housing Authority. He and his wife, 58, live in Monaca.

In recent years, smaller neighborhood theaters have struggled to compete with chains. Among the fallen, the Squirrel Hill Theatre closed in 2010 and the Oaks in Oakmont is expected to transform to a performing arts venue in the fall. The South Hills Theater in Dormont closed in 2001 and was razed in 2010.

Business has dwindled for several years, Cockrum said. The single-screen theater lately averaged about 60 customers a week who viewed second-run movies.

Some studios stopped providing 35mm prints of films when the industry switched to digital projection. As the supply of films dwindled, Cockrum said, theater owners waited longer for available prints. The longer the wait, the less interest audiences had in them.

“I told my wife, we're buggy-whip makers,” Cockrum said. The theater opened in 1967, and the Cockrums bought it in the late 1990s.

When the couple announced its closure on the theater's website and Facebook pages, several people suggested online fundraising, such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo, to donate money for upgrades.

Between digital equipment and building upgrades, including roof repairs and electrical work, Cockrum said, someone will need a minimum of $55,000 to $65,000 to reopen.

“We'd love to see the theater stay open, but in someone else's hands,” he said.

The closure is the latest blow to Ambridge's business district. A fire destroyed Rook's Cantina 505 on July 2, two months after it opened. On July 6, fire destroyed a Merchant Street bridal consignment boutique just about to open, and an apartment above a former tanning salon. A September 2012 fire destroyed the former Charles Men's Store next to the tanning salon.

Bill Vidonic is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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