Along time ago, in a theatre not so far away, a young boy named Ken Charko craned his neck at an almost perpendicular angle so he could see every twinkling star in the Star Wars movie.
He was seven years old. Not allowed to watch television at home, he was transfixed. It wasnt only the movie, which still remains his all-time favourite. He also loved being able to sit in the front row, away from his parents, and savouring his first taste of independence.
It took you away from reality, he says of why he could have gone to see the movie every night if his parents had allowed him to. It was just this whole new world. It was the closest wed been to space since Buck Rogers.
Ten years later he got his first job. It was at a Cineplex theatre. He worked his way up the chain and set out on some of his own business ventures including the one hes most well known for today: owning the Dunbar Theatre.
His opening night as owner 13 years ago was an inauspicious one. Hed brought in a movie that was, well, terrible. Feeling mortified about his choice, as the end credits rolled, he stood at the front of house and said This movie sucks and if you want a refund come and get one.
In retrospect, he says, It was not such a good move. Sitting in the audience was a reporter who wrote a story that was picked up by Reuters and shared across the world. The distribution company said the story cost them millions in lost sales and it didnt want to do business with him any more. Charko was able to make peace with the company and Now, if anyone asks me how the picture is, the lowest rating Ill give it is its okay.
But while this is a story about one of the last independent, single-screen movie houses in Vancouver, its not a story of doom and gloom. Sure there are challenges to the business We have to fight for every dollar but a year and a half ago, the Dunbar Theatre made some significant investments in its future.
Charko took out the 600 seats and replaced them with 360 cushier ones that allow for lots of leg room. (And, for those who still like to go to the movies for a date night, the armrest lifts up so you can snuggle up to your companion.) It replaced the old film reel system with a fully automatic digital one. And it took a gamble and bought a 3D system.
Perhaps it was a fitting tribute to the original owners, who built the theatre in 1934 right in the middle of the Great Depression. Surely there were people who thought the timing was lousy, but imagine what a balm to the spirits it must have been for people to forget about their troubles as they watched Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers swirl around the dance floor in The Gay Divorcee.
Charko says there are still some people in the neighbourhood who remember when the theatres foundation was poured; others had jobs here when they were teens. And teens who have grown into parents bring their kids to the Dunbar.
This sense of neighbourhood is what gives the Dunbar its longevity. Its not just the place of fond memories; its still very much a part of the community fabric, whether its Friday night dates or Saturday afternoon birthday parties.
The lights on the Dunbar Theatre arent dimming any time soon.