And the show goes on

West Theatre isn't what it used to be, but it still draws a crowd

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

The complaints, it seems, are part of the movie-going experience at Craig's West Theatre.
In the lobby, patrons quietly grumble before any given show, but in a tradition as old as the theatre's deteriorated curtains, the murmurs of discontent dissipate before the lights dim.
Along with the dust, the complaints quietly settle into the cracks and tears in the seats, somehow both a part of the theatre's nostalgia.
Craig residents have a love-hate relationship with their movie theater. One of the few entertainment options offered in Craig, the West warrants some degree of respect no matter how tattered it appears.
A wish list for improvements at the theater is usually accompanied by a laugh. People in Craig have accepted that the current condition of their movie theatre isn't going to change, and they seem OK with it.
"Even though it's not a fancy one, we are lucky to have a theater at all, let alone a twin," said Bunny Moyer.
Her son Nick, 13, sighed at his mom's comment. "It would be nice to at least have new seats," he said.
The West Theatre was built in the late 1930s, and has since gone through some drastic makeovers, said Dan Davidson, director of the Museum of Northwest Colorado.
The most recent was almost two decades ago, after the theater was condemned for a collapsed wall that caused fire and health hazards.
The owner, Stan Dewsnup, vowed to fix up and re-open the West, but Craig movie buffs endured several false re-opening dates.
A newspaper article from July 31, 1985 read: "It has been nearly 17 months since the last celluloid frame played at the historic West Theatre, but if current renovations are completed as planned, the next "coming attraction" will open later this fall.
"The story is not new. The theatre's owners have promised a number of re-opening dates since the West was condemned early last year, and yet, the old movie house remains closed."
When the West finally did reopen in 1987, it boasted twin theatres instead of one, a new lobby and snack bar, and all-around improved cleanliness.
"I remember when it opened, it was so pretty," said Maggie St. John. "All the lights on the sign worked, and it was clean."
But in the ensuing 20 years, the West has again fallen victim to neglect, she said.
"It's depressing," St. John said.
Dewsnup still owns the West today, as well as the defunct drive-in theater off U.S. Highway 40. A sign and the drive-in says "soon re-opening."
Dewsnup doesn't live in Craig. He owns theaters across Colorado and in other states, explained Deb and Brad Winger. They have taken over the managerial responsibilities at the theater. Dewsnup, who was in town Friday, refused to speak to the Craig Daily Press about his movie operation.
Accepting the lack of comfort, Craig residents seem more concerned with what movie is playing. Most agreed that the only reason they would drive to a newer Steamboat movie theatre is for the opening weekend of a blockbuster.
"If its an awesome movie and they don't have it here I'll drive (to Steamboat) to see it," said Chris Herring. But those times are rare. Usually I just wait. It's no big deal."
The West Theatre has yet to enter the age of "new and improved, but it appears to have a monopoly on the movie theatre market in Craig.
Asked why he continued to patronize the West, Henderson answered frankly: "Because it's the only one."
And so the West's customers have accepted a small theater with their small town.
"Its nice to wish we had a big one, but this one's fine," Moyer said.
Brad Winger thinks the West is the perfect fit for Craig.
"If you have a date, what else are you going to do?" he said.