HOULTON, Maine — One of the oldest continuously operating movie theaters in the state will keep its doors open after a Houlton entrepreneur purchased the business this week.
Fred Grant, president of Northern Maine Media Inc. and owner of Market Pizza in Houlton, said he couldn’t let the iconic 1919 Temple Theater on Market Square in Houlton close.
“When Charles Fortier announced the imminent closure of the Temple Theatre, my heart sank,” Grant said of Fortier’s decision to close at the end of the month. “The thought of losing such a foundational piece of our community was unbearable.”
It’s the second Aroostook County movie theater saved this year from closing. Mike and Pat Cyr of Limestone purchased the Caribou Theater in May from former owner Arlen Dow who was planning to close because of costs and declining attendance.
Now poised to not just save the theater, but also elevate it, Grant said they will replace projection and sound systems, enhance concession offerings, adjust showtimes and add live performances.
With new technologies, they are considering live streaming events like concerts and even state sports tournaments, he said.
“Charlie did a great job taking care of the theater,” he said. “We owe it to its rich history and its central role in our community to invest in its future.”
Fortier, an admitted lover of films with a personal collection of more than 10,000, has owned the Temple Theater for seven years. He purchased it from Mike Hurley after entering an international essay contest created by Hurley when he couldn’t sell it for $350,000. At the time, Fortier submitted a letter to Hurley, but also said he would buy the building, Fortier said.
In March, Fortier announced that the theater’s final film would screen at the end of June because of lower attendance, higher wages, higher product costs, difficulty finding staff and Hollywood pressures.
It used to be Hollywood would wait a year or longer before films were available to consumers. Now new films are often streamed online a month later, Fortier said, so more people are choosing to stay home to watch films.
Fortier never raised his prices, but his costs have nearly doubled, making it difficult to stay afloat, he said. When he opened the theater in 2016, minimum wage was $7.50 and now it is $13.80. Popcorn was $24 for 50 pounds, now it’s $39 for 35 pounds.
On June 30, Grant will own the Temple Theater and Fortier will lease him the space, Grant said.
Grant’s Northern Maine Media operates WHOU 100.1 FM radio and WHOU live streaming. The theater’s future under Northern Maine Media is set to be exciting, Grant said, adding that the purchase is a good fit for the team.
“Handing over the theater to Fred and his team gives me great confidence for its future. They appreciate the theater’s historical significance and are willing to commit the necessary resources to its preservation and growth,” Fortier said. “I am eager to see what Northern Maine Media will bring to this next chapter in the Temple Theater’s longstanding history.”