Bob Card has the same routine every evening. He grabs the ladder and gets to work on the Strand Theatre marquee. Instead of changing movie titles, he’s changing birthday messages on this particular night.
“It brings a lot of smiles to people, so the place is still serving a purpose, the marquee is living on," says Card, the Strand Theatre owner.
Bob is all smiles, too, as he moves the letters across. He’s owned this theatre with his wife Helen for nearly 30 years. Back in March, when he was forced to shut down because of the pandemic, he started updating the marquee with positive song lyrics or cautionary lines, like “six feet apart.”
“And then, the phone calls and requests started happening, 'Oh, we have the birthday coming up can you put that up?' So we just started doing it," Card says.
Inside, it’s quiet as Bob and Helen sit in the main auditorium of the nearly 100-year-old venue. The charm and elegance of the 1920s is alive and well, and that’s one reason why Bob was so dead set on making the Strand his own.
“The one time I finally got into this place, I told her, 'you’ve got a nice theatre,' and she goes, 'well, it’s for sale,'" Card says.
Helen smiles as he tells the tale.
"So he comes home and says, 'I want to buy this movie theatre in Old Forge,' and I’m like, 'yeah right,' but then he wouldn’t stop talking about it. I came up here and I fell in love with it," Zyma says.
So for the last 30 years, Bob and Helen have run the Strand. Typically the ticket booth is Bob’s domain. He greets the movie-goers and loves chatting with them if he has a little downtime.
“Just sharing the experience. I hope people have a good experience and make some good memories,” Card says.
A few steps away, Helen runs the concessions. Typical popcorn popping sounds of summer have now been replaced with silence.
“It is sad to not have it going. Here we are at the end of August, we’ve missed the entire summer," Zyma says.
“The hardest part is not seeing people. My way of dealing with that is diving into projects," Card says.
Card continues his tour of the theatre with a walk down a hallway that leads to a pair of auditoriums.
“This is our museum, by accident of cameras and photographic equipment. It gives people something else to do on their way to the movie," Card says.
It’s a sight to see. Hundreds of cameras from different centuries adorn the walls. Bob started collecting cameras and displaying them, and it snowballed from there.
“The reaction from people coming to the movie theatre is 'oh, take this! Take this!' A lot of these cameras are gifts, so they have to stay here and stay on display," Card says.
Those relics aren’t the only gifts that people have given Bob and Helen, who are beloved members of this community. Lately, they’re loyal customers are trying to give back to help them through these hard times.
“We have a neighbor who’s selling our gift certificates for us, so people have been buying those the last couple weeks," Card says.
“People have been amazing. Every day it’s like Christmas, we get a card and a letter quite often with a check and just a nice note with how much this place means to them and it’s been great," Zyma says.
Bob says the theatre is ready to open when the state gives the go-ahead, but for now, he’ll stick to his new routine. Every night, bringing smiles to faces with lit up marquee messages, until the day when he can finally turn the lights back on inside.