Peterborough's 102-Year-Old Movie Theater For Sale

Feb 10, 2017

Peterborough Community Theatre
Credit cinematreasures.org

  One of New Hampshire’s oldest movie theaters could be yours for the right price.

The owner of the 102-year-old Peterborough Community Theatre announced this week that she’s putting it up for sale. The single-screen, 95-seat theater dates back to 1914.

Carol Nelson is the theatre’s owner, and is a longtime Peterborough resident.

She joined NHPR’s Morning Edition to talk about the theater and why she's selling the business.

You bought the theater in the fall of 2014. What led to your decision to sell now?

I feel like it’s in a really good place and there are a couple of other projects I want to work on in Peterborough. I’d really like to focus on those, so it’s up for sale.

How did you end up owning it in the first place?

What happened was back in 2013, I read in the local paper that the owners had to go digital or the theater was going to close. So I approached them about doing a Kickstarter campaign and they agreed to let me run that campaign. They got enough money to go digital. About a year later, the owners emailed a couple of people in town and said they’re thinking about selling and whether anyone was interested. And of course, I emailed back about ten minutes later and said I was.

Was that something you’ve always wanted to do? To own a theater?

No, I never knew I could own a theater until that happened.

Can you tell us about some of the improvements you had to do to it?

Sure, so it was already digital when I purchased it, so that big expense was taken care of. But since owning it, I have put in brand new seats. And I also put in what’s called a DVS system, or Descriptive Video Service, which is for the blind and visually impaired. We’re one of only four movie theaters in New Hampshire that offer that service.

A wall at the Peterborough Community Theatre dedicated to the theater's history.
Credit Peterborough Community Theatre

  Can you tell us about the theater’s history?

It opened in September of 1914. It was built by local residents Charles, Warren, and Lester Nichols. It was called The Gem at the time. At first it did live acts, and then it went to movies. In fact at one point in the 1970s, it was a big place for people from the folkway to go and perform their music. The stage has been removed, so we can’t do that any longer. It does have a very long history in town.

What are some of the challenges that come with owning a small, independent theater like this?

The biggest challenge is working with the studios. I’ve been waiting for probably a month to be able to get “La La Land. I was just confirmed I could get it, but I have to show it for two weeks.

So you have to show it for two weeks, and you’ve got one screen, so that locks up your screen for that time, right? 

Absolutely. And in the time that I’ve owned it, the worst-case scenario if you want look at it that way was I had to have Star Wars for four weeks. The first two, two and a half weeks were fabulous and then after that, it just dies down because the market has been saturated. Everybody that’s going to see it has seen it.

Are there any conditions that come with the sale? Would you require the buyer to maintain it as a movie theater, for example?

They do not have to maintain the theater. Of course, the locals would like them to do that I would think. But there are no conditions to that effect.

Has there been any interest?

I’ve had people approach me with different ideas for what they’d like to do. For instance, one group in town wanted to make it into music venue. They ran the numbers and did the calculations, and it just wasn’t going to work for that. So that kind of unfortunately fell to the wayside.

The interior of the theater.
Credit Peterborough Community Theatre

  Is the building included, or is it the theater and the business itself?

It’s not the building; it’s just the theater and all of the assets that pertain to it.

Who would be the ideal buyer?

I definitely would like to be someone local, if at all possible. Someone that’s willing to continue the tradition of collaboration with local groups and local schools that do fundraisers. I really would like someone to carry on that tradition.