People often say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. Is that statement a cliché? Most definitely, but it is the truth. We tend to assume if something or someone has been a constant fixture in our lives that they will always be around, however that is not always the case.
I went to the 85th anniversary show at The Ritz earlier this week, where quite a few people turned out to celebrate the theater that has been a staple on the square in Thomaston for eight and a half decades. By now most of you have heard about the threat of losing the landmark as a functioning single screen theater due to the movie industry’s decision to go completely digital. The powers that be have decided that after the end of this year, they will no longer distribute movies on the traditional 35mm film. Instead, movies will make their way to theaters across the country in a digital format, meaning anyone who does not have a digital projector will no longer be able to show movies.
This leads us to the “Save the Ritz” campaign that has been started by the Upson County Concerned Citizens (UC3), who are trying to raise the $70,000 needed to purchase the new projector. If they succeed, the non-profit group will own the projector and then lease it back to theater. Several fundraisers have been held already, with more in the works, but not nearly enough money has been raised to make a difference. This is the part where you come in.
I realize that The Ritz is a privately owned business and it is easy to say that purchasing new equipment is part of the game and if you want to keep up you have to be willing to do your part. I don’t disagree with that issue, however I feel that since this is something being forced upon the business by circumstances out of their control, helping out is perfectly acceptable. In fact, when the Neals (Malcolm and Amy) bought the theater in 1997, they completely renovated the building-including new projectors, which are still in perfect working condition, they just will no longer serve a purpose come January 1.
The main suggestion I have heard around town is that the Neals should take out a loan to cover the expense of the new projector. However, they have stated that paying back a loan of that size would create a financial hardship and have hopes of taking out a smaller loan if a significant portion of the money can be raised.
Some of you may scoff at that statement and say it’s too bad, but that is their option. Yet, if that is the way you feel, then you will have no right to complain if the funds for a new projector are not available and The Ritz ceases to show movies; leaving Thomaston as a town with no theater. And let’s face it, there are limited outlets for entertainment already; do you really want to lose one more?
One of the main issues that continually comes up in meetings and just general conversation is the need to revitalize the square; to make it a hub of activity for the town once again. This is why it doesn’t make sense to me that most people have been so apathetic over the thought of losing the historic theater. Why would you take away one of the main attractions of the area if that is your goal? Even if you have not frequented the theater in a while, I’m sure you have fond memories of going to the movies growing up. Do you really want to take that chance away from future generations?
The threat of the theater no longer being around is not about losing just a business; it is the threat of losing a piece of history that can never be replaced. The Ritz is the only single-screen movie theater in Georgia that still shows first-run (meaning new) movies. It is one of very few single screen theaters left in the country and has been called the jewel of this community many times. I would even be willing to bet that you will not find a theater with cheaper tickets ($6 for adults) within a 100-mile radius of town, but maybe none of these things matter to you and if that is the case, then continue to look the other way. But if you want to keep the historic landmark that so many people claim to love so dearly, then do what you can to help out, whether it is through a donation of your time, money or an idea for a fundraiser. The clock is ticking.