When the coronavirus pandemic forced MoviE-town to shut down in March, its doors closed on digital projectors, screens, concessions equipment, movie posters and theater seats, including some new leather-style seats that had yet to be installed.
Then in April when the Elizabethtown movie theater’s owner announced that the closure would be permanent, all that stuff became superfluous.
Now, all those furnishings and equipment are destined for new homes via an online auction that will leave the property stripped bare, with wall signs, trash cans, cleaning supplies and even the theater’s old lost-and-found box among the items now up for bid.
“We sell everything,” said Jared Mizrahi, owner of PCI Auction Group, which is conducting the online auction that ends Tuesday. “Literally, they took nothing out of here.”
The auction that will put the nail in the coffin of Elizabethtown’s only movie theater comes as operating restrictions and a dearth of newly-produced movies has devastated the industry. 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. Pre-pandemic, theaters nationwide employed about 150,000, according to the trade group.
In Lancaster County, Kendig Square 6 will close temporarily Nov. 2 while The New Main Theater in Ephrata hasn’t been open since March. National chains have also been suffering, including Regal Cinemas’ owner, which announced early this month that it would temporarily close more than 500 theaters, including Regal Manor in Lancaster Township.
“This is as urgent as it gets,” Esther Baruh, director of government relations for the National Association of Theatre Owners, said in a prepared statement earlier this month advocating for government aid. “The exhibition industry thrived before this pandemic and it will thrive again, but theaters and their employees need a bridge to get them to that point.”
In Elizabethtown, the demise of MoviE-town ends an era that began when a former auto dealership on the edge of town was converted into an eight-screen theater in 1999.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Phil Clark, an Elizabethtown resident and member of borough council. “When they purchased that building and converted it into a movie theater, that was big for E-town.”
Clark noted the theater’s demise has been coupled with the recent permanent closure of the nearby Hoss’s Family Steak & Sea, a restaurant often visited by moviegoers.
“It really fit because you had those things together,” he said. “We’re impacted so much more than we realize by all these things that are closing.”
While a pandemic dropped the final curtain on MoviE-town, the theater had unrelated struggles in recent years. After the theater’s founders faced mounting debts, the complex went up on the auction block in 2013 and was bought by Room One, which had owned Cocoaplex Cinema in Hershey. That theater closed at the end of 2019.
Room One’s investments in the theater at 700 N. Hanover St. included upgrading to digital projectors and swapping out cloth theater seats for new leather-style ones, a changeover that was still underway when the pandemic forced the theater to close.
Through a representative, Room One declined to comment on the ongoing auction.
Find a good seat
While the sale of the theater’s contents marks a sad day for Elizabethtown, it also represents a unique opportunity to find some one-of-a-kind keepsakes among the more than 450 lots being offered for sale.
“You could build a man cave from the stuff in this auction, for sure,” Mizrahi said.
While small time collectors will likely be among the bidders, the bulk of the sales proceeds will come from deep-pocketed buyers interested in items such as 10 digital projection systems whose original cost can be more than $100,000.
“The people that are going to buy those projectors are a super niche market, and we’re really trying to reach them in different ways that we don’t normally do,” Mizrahi said.
Convincing the seller they would be able to get top dollar is what helped PCI win the auction in the first place, a pitch Mizrahi said was successful because of PCI’s network of nine sales locations around the country and its ability to reach international customers. Already, a potential buyer from Spain has inquired about the digital projectors, he said.
“We could ship the projectors internationally, which is part of our service. That’s why we get top dollar,” he said.
The MoviE-town auction is also unique since everything is being sold in place and buyers will be required to remove many items themselves, including signs attached the walls, seats bolted to the floor and screens stretched across the front of theaters.
“The buyer’s got to bring the drill and the ladder, come up here and remove it the way that they want,” he said. “Pickup day on Thursday is going to be crazy. There’s no way around it. That’s just part of how things work.”
For PCI Auction Group, whose largest location is in Manheim, the MoviE-town auction is part of an effort to expand beyond selling furnishings and equipment from closed restaurants, which still make up about 90 percent of its auctions.
For those more typical restaurants sales, Mizrahi says he is still awaiting an expected crush of new business because of the pandemic.
“I haven’t really seen the tidal wave yet, I really haven’t,” he said. “Yes, places have closed since COVID, we’ve done a lot of COVID jobs, but places close a lot for other reasons too.”