Written by Brent Urmey
“I couldn’t be happier,” Penn Ketchum declared, as he greeted the first audience of movie-goers at The New Main in Ephrata. “I love the movies. Some guys, they’re into cars, they’re into fishing, hunting, golfing, whatever—I’m a movie guy. The movies have always been in my blood.”
Penn and his wife, Aimee, acquired the twin-screen Ephrata Main Theatre at the beginning of June and spent a week renovating it before they reopened as The New Main on June 15th. Gone are the antiquated seats, which many found uncomfortable, and in their place, sleek black leather rockers with cupholders. The charming art deco style of the theater remains unblemished and comfort is at an all-time high. “These seats are beautiful!” yelled someone in the sold-out crowd for Cars 3.
The whole Ketchum family pitched in for The New Main’s grand reopening: Penn ran the digital projectors, Aimee handed out mini traffic cones filled with popcorn to kids, their daughters Marley and Kayla were on cleaning detail— when they weren’t bolting down the new seats. “We found out our kids knew how to use power tools,” Penn laughed, maybe just a little nervously. To celebrate the opening and the release of Cars 3, Aimee arranged for race car driver Andy Anderson to make an appearance with his car, the Nitro Fish Dart, much to the children’s delight.
Earlier in the week, Penn conducted speed interviews with local teens to staff The New Main. The theater was half full with eager applicants waiting their turn for an audience with Penn, General Manager Devin, and a 12” Spider- an
action figure. “I wanted to hire every one of those kids, they’re great,” Penn confided with a sheepish grin. “I only needed five, but I hired eleven.”
Although the Ketchums have been operating Penn Cinema since 2006, this is their first time as the sole owners of a business; the New Main will be independent of the Penn Cinema franchise. Mom-and-pop movie theaters and downtown cinemas may have all but vanished, but Penn looks at the rejuvenation happening in cities and the flourishing local entertainment scene and sees an opportunity. “Ephrata is on its way up,” he said. “I think we can be part of that renaissance.”
The Ephrata Main Theatre first opened its doors in 1938 with a single screen and 750 seats. It was eventually rebuilt as a twin theater after the nearby Roxy Theatre burned down in 1955. As twins and four-plexes gave way to multiplex cinemas in the ‘80s, the Ephrata Main endured thanks to the community’s loyal patronage.
Steve and Karen Brown, owners of the restaurant Lily’s on Main, recognized the theater as a cultural landmark and took possession of the business in 2010. They upgraded to digital projection equipment and made the Ephrata Main the only movie theater in the area that sold alcoholic beverages. However, when looming debts threatened to make the historic theater go dark, the Browns began looking for help—first via a public GoFundMe page, then by contacting the Ketchums.
At the time, Penn was already toying with the idea of opening a small theater, but new construction costs were prohibitive. The Ephrata Main was precisely what he was looking for, a twin-screen testbed where he could revitalize local cinema. “I think there is a place, in this new world, for twin movie theaters,” he said. “I think they can come back. My vision for the New Main is to prove that theory.”
Comfort and convenience are essential components of the modern theater—Penn Cinema recently began the transition to recliner seats and implemented reserved seating, so audience members can choose where they’ll sit when they order tickets. Penn made sure that The New Main would offer that service from day one. “We need to continually improve the moviegoing experience,” he commented. “The presentation better be sharp, the sound better be crisp, the seats better be comfortable.”
Judging by the attendance at the opening of The New Main, the people of Ephrata are excited to see their theater thrive. They’ve welcomed Penn and Aimee and showered them with support and enthusiasm. “I already feel like an embraced member of the community,” Penn said. “It couldn’t be better.”