The County Theater

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OK, I admit it. the County Theater in Doylestown is one of my all-time favorite places to go. In an age of garish megaplexes that seem to grow ever bigger and feature ever sillier films, the “County,” as it is affectionately known throughout the region, is a real step back in time.

When the County opened in 1938 it was a state-of-the-art theater with the huge bonus of being air-conditioned. Its art deco style made it a modern landmark in a town of 18th century buildings and the theater flourished until the changing American suburban landscape of the 1970’s. With  new malls and multiplexes taking their toll on small town America, it was only a matter of time before Doylestown and the County would be severely impacted. That time came during the 1980’s and by 1990, the theater’s failing marquee lights joined its failed air conditioner and the theater went dark. It reopened briefly, but closed again in 1992.

It is as it was - Photograph by Chris John
It is as it was – Photograph by Chris John

As odd as it may seem, the closing of the County was actually the best thing that could have happened to the old theater. The building was leased to a non-profit group and reopened in 1993 with tremendous community support. Not only did people once again begin to patronize the theater, but they supported it with generous contributions and added the much needed sweat equity to clean, paint and repair the old building.

The inner lobby before the latest remodeling - Photograph by Henry Rowan
The inner lobby before the latest remodeling – Photograph by Henry Rowan

Over the ensuing years, a number of ambitious remodeling projects have brought the theater back to its former glory. However, it would be a mistake to think of the County as just a simple theater, for in many ways it represents the heart and soul of the community. It rose from near ruin on the backs of the people who now come to enjoy the often off beat, but always high quality, films. From the ticket takers to the people you come to recognize as frequent patrons, you can just sense that many of the people in the audience feel that this is “their” theater and that this is a happy place to spend a bit of time. Add to that the sense of pride and ownership which is easily felt and you have a very different movie going experience, one that the fine folks who run the theater work hard to encourage.

The smaller of the two theater is cozy, not small - Photograph by Henry Rowan
The smaller of the two theater is cozy, not small – Photograph by Henry Rowan

Various membership options are available which lower the ticket prices down to $4.75 (2009 prices) making the County one of the best entertainment values around. As an added plus, they don’t gouge you for the popcorn popped in a classic popper nor do you have to sell a kidney just to buy a soda. If you are not a pop and popcorn sort of person, their coffee is really good (get a coffee card) and they have excellent cookies as well as other unique and delicious munchies.

The old popcorn popper still remains - Photograph by Henry Rowan
The old popcorn popper still remains – Photograph by Henry Rowan

In addition to the reasonable prices and the fine cuisine available from the old time concession stand, the County’s normal offerings are expanded with numerous special screenings, children’s films, festivals, and discussions with filmmakers. This interactive approach has helped solidify the County’s role as a true regional resource whose benefit extends far past the borders of Doylestown.

Hint: Since many of the County’s films are not heavily advertised it is very possible that you may not have any idea what they are about unless you research them yourself. Well, don’t! Just go. It is great fun to just sit down and let the film unfold without any preconceived notion of what it is about. Sometimes you get sub-titles, sometimes you get comedy, and sometimes you get drama. The one thing that you are guaranteed to always get is an interesting evening!

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