Sisters, Prineville beating Madras to the movies
By Tony Ahern
It was a cinematic one-two punch.
The stories emerged within days of each other: Sisters and Prineville are getting movie theaters. This just in: Madras still doesn't have a theater, and unless I missed it, there weren't any stories about one coming to town real soon either.
It's hard to fathom that Sisters would be a better market for a movie complex than Madras. Sisters has a couple thousand people, and would also draw from the Black Butte area. They do get a heck of a lot of tourists, but, at tops that market is, what, maybe 7,000 or so people? They are also just 20 miles or so from theaters in Bend and Redmond.
The Madras-Jefferson County area (sans Crooked River Ranch) has a market of about 17,000 people, plus substantial summertime motel visitors via Highways 97 and 26. Madras is also about 10 miles further from the nearest theater than is Sisters (not much difference but a factor nonetheless). Wouldn't Madras be a better spot for a theater entrepreneur to locate?
Certainly the Sisters-Black Butte area is a bit better off financially than Jefferson County, and could, theoretically, buy more movie tickets. However, if you can stay away from the $10 large popcorn-large Coke combo deal, movies can be affordable family entertainment. We could, and would, afford tickets. Most of us would splurge for that popcorn-pop combo and throw in those five-dollar Milk Duds, too.
No ill will is harbored against Sisters. That little town is dynamic and does just about whatever it puts its mind to. I just think if a theater could make it in Sisters, it would flat out thrive in Madras.
Prineville's theater history echoes that of Madras. They had a drive-in on the outskirts of town and a walk-in on Main Street. Madras had the K&D drive-in on (what was then) the outskirts of town and the Chief walk-in on our main street. The theaters carved out big pieces of cultural history in both communities.
The Madras and Prineville theaters were killed by the pox that killed small-town theaters across the country in the latter third of the past century: the one-two punch of cable television proliferation and advent of the cineplex at the regional mall. Social and entertainment practices changed.
Things have changed back somewhat.
The recent population spike in Prineville has that town thinking they're again ready to support a theater. They probably are. Their drawing population is similar to what a theater in Madras would have.
As for the potential of Madras getting a theater? Several folks -- some legitimate in the business, some not as much so -- have researched the Madras market and potential locations. The chamber has talked with several, as have city leaders. Personal efforts have been made to lure developers. A theater in town is of public concern. It would add to that "livability" factor our community rightly tries to foster. A theater would also keep shoppers and restaurant visitors at home on weekends, paying economic dividends on down the line.
Lots of great things are happening in Madras. With the community's growth and the targeted interest in bringing a theater here, it's probably just a matter of time.
But learning that plans are in the works for theaters in Sisters and Prineville sharpens that question: When?