The old Strand movie theater in downtown Waynesville is finally getting a new lease on life after two false starts in the past decade to revive the shuttered Main Street icon.
The building was bought in foreclosure last year by Rodney and Lorraine Conard, who have already begun renovations to transform it into a live performance venue.
“I have just always loved the building,” Rodney said, ever since he watched Flash Gordon travel to strange, fictional lands at the old movie theater as a boy.
Following a romanticized dream of owning his hometown theater is ultimately not what drove him and Lorraine to save the building, however. It was far more utilitarian: Rodney needed warehouse space for his thriving business buying and refurbishing used barcode readers, a niche business to say the least.
The economic downturn meant plenty of retailers were going out of business and unloading their inventory of barcode readers for cheap. And as a result, the business prospered.
Rodney is business partners with Lorraine’s brother, who initially started the venture.
“(The business) started literally in my brother’s closet,” Lorraine said.
It grew to fill part of the Conards’ basement and then the whole basement.
That is when they decided to start searching for somewhere to house all of the barcode readers.
Happenstance, divine intervention or a little of both led the Conards to The Strands’ doorstep. After looking for about a year, the Conards bought the building that formerly housed The Strand. The property was in foreclosure when the Conards bought it for $182,000, according to county land records.
It did not take long for them to decide to revive the theater aspect as well.
“We walked in and saw the stage was still there and everything,” Rodney said. Soon after — within three seconds, according to Lorraine — they realized that they needed to keep at least part of The Strand for its original artistic purpose.
Lorraine is a popular singer-songwriter based in Waynesville with a large and loyal following.
“This is the best of both worlds,” Rodney said. “We can save the building.”
Under the Conards ownership, the building will take on several different faces. It will act as a storage space for the inventory of bar-code readers, an office, retail shop and 80-seat performance venue.
When the couple bought the structure, it was barely more than that. The building had no electricity, no heat, no air and no plumbing.
“It was a shell of a building,” Rodney said.
Currently, the Main Street entrance is covered in plywood. The long, thin entrance hall that once featured a ticket booth and ramps leading down to the theater or up to the balcony will now become retail space. The Conards do not yet know what the retail space will house, or whether they will run a store themselves or lease it out.
And, people will now enter the theater from an alley door off Wall Street rather then Main Street. The entrance will have a “speakeasy feel,” Lorraine said.
The theater space will have 80 seats and keep its original stage and rounded walls. The remaining space will house the storage and office space.
Construction started in October, and Lorraine said they expect to finish the storage and office space by late summer or early fall. However, she is not sure when a store and the theater will open, but they plan to hold several fundraisers to help with their theater renovation efforts.
Lorraine has several ideas for events that the theater can offer, including a Thursday night music series and lunchtime speakers.
The Strand’s stage will prominently feature local and regional artists. And, Lorraine tossed out the idea of having local restaurants provide food if it hosts lunchtime events.
“Our whole goal with the theater is to pull together local businesses,” Lorraine said.
But, the community will ultimately dictate what shows the revamped Strand will host.
“What the theater becomes is totally dependent on the community,” Lorraine said.
The couple has even gone so far as to post a survey to its Facebook page, asking people what type of events and who specifically they would like to see.
“It is not a for-profit venture,” Lorraine said, adding that they simply want it to be self-sustaining and “contribute to the revitalization” of Waynesville’s downtown.
But, for the small theater to survive, people will need to come out and support it.
“Come out and be apart of downtown,” Lorraine said. “It takes a little effort on the individual’s part.”
Downtown business owners often hear that they should stay open later or host events, but then they don’t get the foot traffic or attendance required to make the events sustainable, Lorraine said.
The Strand opened on Main Street in the 1940s, an era before TVs were a mandatory household appliance and people flocked to movie theaters in droves. It operated as a movie theater until the late 1970s when it changed into a primarily performance venue for The Haywood Regional Arts Theater group.
Because it was so popular and stayed open for so long, The Strand became a beloved institution in Waynesville. Those residents who had the opportunity to visit it remember the theater fondly.
In 1993, however, HART moved into its own performing arts center on Pigeon Street, and The Strand was left empty.
On two separate occasions during the past decade, attempts were made to revive The Strand, but their dreams never came to fruition.
• In 2005, Joey Massie, whose family founded The Strand in the ‘40s, announced plans to transform the venue into a movie theater and pizza joint, but the idea never became a reality.
• In 2010, Richard Miller, a downtown Waynesville businessman and property owner, announced plans to turn The Strand into a combination movie theater, live performance venue, beer brewery, art gallery and restaurant. That concept never came to be either.
Lend a hand for The Strand
Lorraine and Rodney Conard will host a fundraiser to help with their renovations to the old Strand movie theater on Main Street in Waynesville on May 6 at the new Headwaters Brewing Company in Waynesville. Admission will cost $20 and include one Headwaters brew paired with a specially made chocolate from Chocolate MD in Sylva.
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