Showtime: Two years ago Monday, the West Twin Cinema reopened under new ownership
The brilliant, neon marquee cuts through the early-evening December darkness like a beacon, reminding Craig of historic entertainment while advertising the latest Disney, Bond and Marvel films. But, not long ago, perhaps the single most visible structure in Craig wasn’t far from shutting off the lights for good.
Instead, with the intervention of a pair of local families and the help of many dedicated employees, the West Twin Cinema, Craig’s historic and only movie theater, celebrated the second anniversary of its reopening Monday.
“We couldn’t go without a theater in Craig,” said Amy Updike, one of the new owners of the theater.
Updike, with her husband, Victor, are owners of Masterworks Mechanical. Since mid-2019, they have also owned the West Twin Cinema building on Victory Way just east of Yampa Avenue, and, with Andrea and Dale Camp, have owned the theater business that all involved say is a labor of love at best, and a break-even business venture at worst.
“The Camps and my husband and I had talked about if there were an investment somewhere in the community we could make,” Updike said. “Andrea, being on City Council, heard they were closing down the theater and the lady who owned it had contacted (city manager) Peter Brixius to see if the city would buy it. But she and Dale came to Victor and me and we went to work, purchased it and did a little remodel.
“They say communities are failing when the theater closes. That’s the sign of a community going down the drain.”
Both Victor Updike and Dale Camp grew up in Craig. Andrea Camp grew up in Hayden and remembers visiting the West Twin often as a child. Though Amy Updike grew up mostly in Grand Junction, where she met her husband, she’s been in Craig more than 30 years. The theater had always meant something to the prospective owners.
“I didn’t want to see an empty building on the main street,” Andrea Camp said.
Camp remembered Christmas movies at the West Twin in her childhood, meeting Santa there and feeling, even then, the history of the place. Her husband knew the same.
“We wanted to preserve that for our kids and grandkids,” Andrea Camp said. “Knowing it’s been here so long, we hated to see it go away.”
It wasn’t simple — the former owner, Updike said, was asking more than the families felt was prudent to pay. But the urging of a longtime employee helped the former owner see the value of selling to the Updikes and Camps rather than just shuttering the theater for good and leaving with nothing.
“I sure wanted it to stay open,” said that employee, Debbie Winder, who’s managed the theater for more than 30 years and still does under the new ownership. “My family has put a lot of heart and soul into it.”
Winder said that, after years of attending the theater growing up and in her early married years, she was asked to join the team working at the West Twin. There was a time, she said, during an ownership transition, that she and her family were essentially all that was keeping the reels running.
“We wouldn’t have made it and stayed open,” Winder said. “Now we’ve got great owners. I love it.”
Those new owners felt it was a bit cinematic to walk into the theater they’d attended their whole lives and flip the lights on as the new proprietors.
“It was surreal,” Updike said. “My grandkids were thinking, ‘We own the movie theater.’ This is something we did with them. And it was just, it didn’t feel real for the longest time. We’re in there doing stuff and it feels like you’re in somebody else’s house.”
It’s not a moneymaker, but it’s a passion project that nobody involved intends to let go. All the families work regularly at the theater, where they put on holiday showings, special events and more at the two-screen building that still contains some truly historic equipment and architecture.
“It’s important to give back,” Updike said. “To me, it’s like the movie, Lion King — the circle of life? That’s what this is. You have to give back to your community.”
Of course it became less of a moneymaker just a few months after the reopening — in December of 2019 — when a global pandemic shut things down across the movie business.
“We were closed March 17, had to shut down, and then we reopened Memorial Day weekend,” Updike said. “It was only two months, and then we got a special variance and put air cleaners on the furnaces, fans running all the time, seating every other row, special cleaning — that’s one of the reasons we only do one showing now instead of two. But we were worried because they weren’t releasing movies.”
The theater soldiered on, but it wasn’t easy. It’s still not, but it’s getting better.
“We’ve had to put quite a bit of money that came out of our individual pockets, because the theater didn’t have funds,” Updike said. “My hope is the theater maintains itself and earns a little more for improvements. The outside, windows, exterior, we’d like to make it look cleaner and nicer. I want it to pay for itself and be here for the community.”
Whatever is next for Craig’s movie theater, it will be done with the community in mind.
“Keeping this for our community — something for kids to do, something for families to do — I think that’s really important,” Camp said. “We’re really grateful to be able to do that.”
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