Group to buy movie house

CHATHAM–The memorial sign to Tony Quirino has disappeared from the marquee, and the fliers listing the real estate broker are gone from the movie poster boxes, the first signs late last week that the historic Crandell Theatre is about to be sold.

The buyers expect to continue operating the Main Street landmark as a movie theater, but only one member of the group has gone public.

The surprise in these tidbits of information available about the pending deal is that the Chatham Film Club, which has been raising funds for over a year to purchase the theater, is not the group that will purchase the theater. The only person publicly identified with the purchase as a representative of the new owners is Chatham resident and philanthropist Judy Grunberg, owner of the Blue Plate restaurant and the founder of the PS/21 arts center.

Mr. Quirino had been working with the film club on its plans to purchase the theater, which opened in 1926, and he had planned to stay on to help the club after it took over the building. But he died suddenly in January at the age of 62, before the club had raised enough money to complete the deal.

Ms. Grunberg said this week that her group “definitely” plans to operate the Crandell as a movie theater. She declined to provide further details or to name the others in the group, as did Keith Flint, the lawyer for Sandy Quirino, the current owner and Mr. Quirino’s widow.

“The sale has not been completed,” Mr. Flint said Monday. He said the parties are in the process of completing a contract for the sale, and he expressed the hope that it would happen soon.

Ms. Quirino could not be reached for comment.

Sandi Knakal, president of the Film Club, said the club had been approached by the people who plan to buy the theater and that the two groups are discussing how they will work together. “We hope our relationship will be significant,” she said.

Until Mr. Quirino’s death, the film club held monthly showings of independent films at the Crandell. It also stages the popular FilmColumbia film festival each fall, with the Crandell as the main screen. “We want to make sure it stays as a movie theater,” Ms. Knakal said.

She declined to say how much money the club had raised to purchase the theater other than to emphasize that all the money collected has been set aside and that, except for small contributions dropped in collection jars on the concession counter at the theater and other public places around the village, the club has records of who contributed to the campaign.

“We will not spend that money without talking to our donors,” she said. “We’ll make sure they know what their options are.”

In a brief email release about the pending deal, Ms. Grunberg wrote of her group, “I expect that the film club will have a role to play, but I don’t yet know what that role will be. However, the group’s intention is that the FilmColumbia festival and the monthly movies will take place as always.”

Club officials had said in March that they were trying to raise $1.5 million for the purchase and upgrade of the theater. The Crandell, which boasts a balcony and a décor that appears little changed from how it may have looked when it opened, is the only single-screen movie theater in the county. And although the restrooms and some seats clearly need improvements, the theater has a new sound system.

Hollywood films and film festival previews drew large crowds, sometimes selling out. But there was also a loyal crowd that returned frequently, paying $4 for a ticket and comparatively modest prices for refreshments. The theater was also one of the anchor businesses on Main Street, and residents have remarked since it closed following Mr. Quirino’s death about diminished evening activity in that section of the village.

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