Photo by Amanda DeShaw
Helen Zyma and Bob Card, the owners of the Strand Theatre, stand under the poster for the live version of “Beauty and the Beast.” The animated version was the first movie the pair played after they bought the Strand.

For the Express

The Strand Theatre is a landmark of the community that brings blockbuster hits to our small town. It gives visitors and locals a movie experience like no other, decorated with nostalgic items and packed with memorabilia it takes movie goers back to another time.

The first movie that was shown once owners Bob Card and Helen Zyma opened for business, was the animated version of “Beauty and The Beast.” Now 25 years later they are showing the live version.

“It brought back memories of scrambling to open for the first time and of how well-received the first one was. People would applaud at the end. It is great to see that this current version is becoming as loved as the animated one has been,” said Bob.

Anyone who has experienced a movie at the Strand knows that their prices are extremely affordable, more so than if you were to visit a corporate owned theater and the walk to get to your seat is a blast from the past. Owners Bob and Helen have a love for the business that goes beyond just the need to make money.

“We try to keep our prices low to make it more affordable for families to enjoy time out together. We want to offer a great experience at a reasonable price. It’s not about making lots of money. Operating the Strand is a labor of love and we get much joy from seeing people have a good time,” said Bob and Helen in an email interview.

Bob and Helen bought the theatre back in 1991 and opened for business in 1992.

“The Strand has been an on-going restoration project over the years. Renovating the apartments was a priority in the earlier years. Besides being a movie theatre there is a nice ‘village’ upstairs with great people living there,” said Card.

Over the years The Strand has expanded and grown into what you see today but it wasn’t always that way.

“The theatre was a seasonal operation as were most of the apartments for a period of years prior to 1992. Putting in heat and being open year-round for all people in all seasons was important to us. For many years movies were only offered from May to October! Mechanical, structural and cosmetic work was ongoing throughout the 1990s. In 1998 we renovated the lobby getting rid of two layers of drop ceilings to get back to the original ceiling height and repair the tin ceiling. The concession stand moved to its current location and the restrooms were expanded. In the winter of 1999 the addition that houses the three ‘new’ auditoriums and the many cameras on display in the ‘accidental museum,’ was built. Those theaters opened in the summer of 2000. In the spring of 2008 the original auditorium finally got a long overdue restoration with the 1934 seats being removed, powder-coated, reupholstered and reinstalled. With the seats out, we were able to repair and repaint the ceiling, the floor was tiled and the stage revamped. Outdoors the once leaning and crumbling brick parapet wall was rebuilt but first the huge and very heavy ‘Thomson’ stone at the top of the building had to be removed and lowered to the ground. When the brickwork was completed the stone had to be lifted and put back into place. We felt that it was a part of the Strand’s history and important to keep,” said Card.

Thousands of people have passed through the iconic doors to experience all that is The Strand since they took ownership in 1991. Bob and Helen said that it has been great to live and work here for the past 25 years and it is fun to run a business in Old Forge though, at times, very challenging. Overall, the region gets better and better and the community is amazing they said.

According to Bob and Helen when they first started running movies, it was the winter and the business was so slowed that it scared them about the future. Then they got a James Bond film that performed well, which was followed by the 1997 blockbuster “Titanic” and they started to see more and more business. Over the years the business has gotten stronger and stronger over the winter, but they still see a big difference depending on what the weather is like.

“When you hit poor winters there are fewer families and business just isn’t that good. We can almost tell what season it is by just taking a look at who is at the movies at any given time. Over 25 years you see many cycles, good and bad,” said Bob.

Nowadays the weather isn’t the only element from the outside that is having an effect on the movie business.

“Our industry has more competition than ever from various streaming at home sources. We will do our best to make experiencing a movie at the Strand better than watching it at home. There’s something very special about a room filled with people of all ages watching and reacting to a movie together. We want this place to always be here and we feel that the community does as well,” said Card

The Strand has been bringing movies and occasionally live events to Old Forge for 94 years–from the silent era to the digital age.

“We are humbled and grateful for the support shown to us over our 25 years here and to the theatre for the past 94 years. Onward,” said Bob and Helen.