The Valley Theatre (2005)

This weekend (2005 Feb 11), the Valley Theatre ( or Valley Theater? ) closed after 3 great years. Don Stait reopened this theater in eastern Beaverton, Oregon after the Regal Cinemas chain closed it. Don showed second run movies, a few weeks before they showed up on DVD. The Valley wasn't glitzy, but it was well maintained. Don employed about half a dozen teenagers there, and while the pay was probably lousy, they seemed to be having more fun than the teenagers working at Regal.

A lot of love went into the Valley, and it showed. The murals on the wall were great. The men's bathroom featured Chewbacca on the wall using the "next" urinal. Yes, some of the seats were broken, but there was a lot of effort expended on replacing them. If I could get my hands on the little twerps who busted and slashed them, I might have reduced Don's expenses a bit.

I will sorely miss 3 dollar movies a 5 minute walk from my house. Actually, better than three dollars; in May, the Valley would sell "20 movies for 20 bucks" coupons; I would typically buy 5 of them and then give them as presents to friends. (Of course, now those presents are worthless. Sigh.)

Because the movies were so cheap, I saw a lot of movies I wouldn't otherwise. If they were bad, I could leave, at the cost of a dollar and the time invested so far. Walking out of an $8 movie is much harder. And I didn't walk out nearly as often as I would have predicted - a turkey is much less annoying if it didn't cost much.

But most of the movies were not turkeys. Don took risks, and played an art film from time to time. He would dig out old classics - Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Princess Bride, and others. Much better than a VCR and a small screen. In time, the blockbusters made it to the Valley, and there was no point in spending the big bucks if you were just a little patient. A good movie is a good movie, and a three month delay does not make it a bad one.

The Valley was not just a movie theater, but a community resource. There were movies from India every few weeks or so, on Sunday afternoons. Quite often on Friday nights, some local indie production would premiere there. I didn't see many of those, but I was proud to be living close to such an event.

I don't know why the Valley closed - it was a shock to learn about it this weekend. Although there were often lines on the weekend, it was a big place and hard to fill; I imagine it was not a big moneymaker. It may be that Don just got tired and needed a break; it closed just before the 2005 Portland International Film Festival opened, and maybe he just wanted to /watch/ some movies for a change. Most likely, though, is that his lease ran out, with some big box store eyeing the square feet the venerable old theater rests on. The McMenamin brothers are buying a lot of old theaters around the Portland area, and making them into pub theaters. If they do that to the Valley, I hope they have the sense to retain Don Stait as a consultant. He knows how to make a theater into a comfortable place.

Thanks, Don, for three good years. I hope you have as many happy memories as I did!

And on January 23, 2012, nearly 7 years later, I got a nice email from Don Strait who now is with the Littler law firm in downtown Portland. Here's most of it:

 I was actually a victim of the Cedar Hills Crossing Century 16 Theater.  
 When it was built, we became third in line for movies instead of second.  
 By the time we were able to show the films, they were already on video, 
 and no one came to see them.  I could have gone the brew-pub theater 
 route (which is what the Valley is now) but I had enough trouble with 
 drunks when I wasn't serving alcohol.  So, at 50 years of age, I made the
 decision to go to law school, and I'm now in my 2nd year as an attorney.  

A good move, and a good example to all of us. Going to law school at 50, and becoming a labor lawyer helping other people with their jobs, is as cool as starting young people with their first jobs. It is great that at Portland has a labor lawyer who knows what it is like to be an employer and meet a payroll while struggling through tough times. I'm sure his experience helps him find productive win-win solutions for his clients.

ValleyTheatre (last edited 2012-01-24 15:19:30 by KeithLofstrom)