The heartbeat of a community
It never ceases to amaze Lorraine Conard.
“It’s a little bit magical,” she said. “You walk in and there’s this energy and excitement, a heartbeat within the community — I’m always so grateful and thankful for the people who come in.”
Sitting in the front room of The Strand at 38 Main in downtown Waynesville, Lorraine and her husband Rodney are owners of the movie theatre. A beloved destination for many years within the town, it lay dormant for far too long, only to be purchased, renovated and revived by the young couple.
“The last year has really been a rollercoaster, and we’ve learned so much,” Lorraine said. “It’s been incredibly challenging and rewarding, too — it’s a huge job.”
On any given weekend, The Strand will screen an array of films, from blockbuster superhero flicks to romantic comedies, foreign sensations to cinema classics and children’s favorites.
“We’re trying to figure out the best give and take, what people are interested in and are looking to see,” Rodney said. “I remember seeing ‘Flash Gordon’ here when I was a kid, and it’s great to be able to provide this place for families and people to come and enjoy the movies.”
Breath of new life
After a handful of goodhearted attempts to bring the theatre back to life, the Conards bought it out of foreclosure. The space would serve two purposes, as a main office for the couple’s daytime business that specializes in barcode scanning, and as an entertainment hub of Waynesville at night. But, that initial plan shifted as responsibilities and the continual evolution of the theatre takes up more and more of their time.
“It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle,” Lorraine smiled. “The original goal what to have it just be a fun thing in downtown, have a theatre on the side of our business, and help bring more traffic and people to town, but that hasn’t been the case.”
When films weren’t being screened, live music takes center stage. Acts from across the country and around the world find their way to The Strand. One night there may be a renowned Appalachian storyteller, the next an acoustic duo from Vermont, only to follow that up with a local old-time string band or bluegrass outfit.
“It’s great to be able to offer all kinds of music, but it can be also nerve-wracking because a lot of these groups are from out-of-town and might be so well known,” Rodney said. “But, for tonight’s show, we’re expecting a packed house.”
That evening, virtuoso Celtic fiddler Jamie Laval rolled into the theatre. The U.S National Scottish Fiddle Champion, Laval has played with Dave Matthews and also performed personally for Her Majesty the Queen in England. The Conards are not only excited for the impending show, but also for the folks from far and wide in Southern Appalachia that will trickle in shortly for a memorable evening.
“We’re trying to fill a niche,” Lorraine said. “So many people go to Asheville for entertainment, and we want to be able to provide that same kind of atmosphere in their own town.”
Connecting the dots
With a solid foundation of film and live music throughout the week, The Strand recently transformed their entrance room into a “Dessert Lounge.” Where before you could get popcorn and snacks before sitting down to a movie, you can now get an array of local products. With local artisan organic soda from the Waynesville Soda Jerks still a mainstay at the establishment, patrons can also purchase a variety of locally made products, including handmade ice cream from The Hop in Asheville, cakes and pretzels from Just Simply Delicious, brownies from Lenoir Bakery, items from Breaking Bread Café, baked goods from City Bakery a few doors down and craft beer from BearWaters and Frog Level breweries across town, among others.
“The Dessert Lounge has it’s own separate life and vibe,” Lorraine said. “People can stroll downtown, come in and get an ice cream or a slice of cake and a cappuccino.”
And as night falls upon the mountainous landscape of Western North Carolina once again, the marquee lights of The Strand illuminate. Like a lighthouse calling out for all those in search of simpler time all to often forgotten in a modern world, where a scoop of ice cream or sitting down to a favorite flick is a moment to reflect and revel in the magic of life.
“The small town movie theatre is a disappearing wonder,” Lorraine said. “It’s getting lost in so many place and we have a chance to keep it alive here. This is our community space, this is our theatre, your theatre, everybody’s theatre — come here and be part of the magic.”