The Next Feature

The Next Feature

This story may never be an epic piece of cinematic genius, but I’ll bet you it would capture the hearts of movie goers everywhere. The opening scene is set with the camera panning over picturesque Lebanon County. A boy named Allen Hicks (everyone calls him Skip) is strolling down the street with his friends about to enter a local movie theater on Cumberland Street in downtown Lebanon. They take their seats, lost in the darkness of the theater. Suddenly, music begins to play, the stage curtains rise and larger than life images appear on the screen completely and utterly mesmerizing young Hicks. This becomes the first of many trips to the local movie theater and as Skip grows into a young man, his life takes him in another direction, but he never forgets how he feels when he is watching the big screen. His friends used to call him “Nustdy”, for movies. “Nutstdy” was a Lebanon colloquialism for “nuts”. And, they were right. The scene changes to 1917 and the camera now closes in on a quaint movie theater on a street in the village of Annville. The name of the theater is “The Hippadrome” and it shows movies to the local residents a few evenings a week. Little did Skip know how much this little theater would change his life forever.

Skip attended Elizabethtown College and it was there he says he met his most patient wife, Martha. They both became teachers and Skip took a position at the Milton Hershey School. They had their daughter Stephanie some years later and life was rolling along pretty good. But in 1992, just like something out of the movies, the most unusual event happened. Skip’s mother Mary Jane Hicks, told him she was purchasing a movie theater in Annville. And, not only was she purchasing the theater, she was purchasing the appliance store next door. And this is the best bit. She was gifting both to Skip.

Renovation began in 1992 on the newly named Allen Theater, in honor of Skip’s father, Allen, Sr. The Hicks chose Hickey Architects to perform the renovations and in 1995, the doors to the Allen Theater and MJ’s Coffeehouse opened to the public. And from that day, until today, you can purchase your ticket, pause and have a chat with the man who has sat in the little arched ticket booth for the past twenty two years, Skip Hicks.

The theater is handsomely decorated with vintage movie posters and movie memorabilia. Customers can grab a delicious sandwich and coffee at MJ’s Coffeehouse (dedicated to Skip’s mother Mary Jane) and take them right into the movie theater. Skip says you would be surprised how clean the theater has stayed over the years. Customers always clean up their plates and cups when they leave. The theater has gained much notoriety over the years and is rated in the top four theaters in the regional area. With its close proximity to Lebanon Valley College, Skip and Martha have generously donated the use of the theater’s stage for concerts and other events. Folks from Harrisburg, Lancaster, Chester and Berks counties flock to see the top rated movies Skips offers. But as in all movies, there is a beginning and an end, and Skip has decided it’s time to move on to the next feature. Retirement. Skip and Martha want to have a bit more time to spend at their beach home and they have chosen to place the Allen Theater up for sale. Skip says he has mixed emotions, but is ready for a new chapter in his life. What will he do next? He says he’ll probably start another small business but he’s not sure what he’ll end up doing. For now, he’s looking for someone who loves movies, a good cup of coffee and who will be a good steward of the Allen Theater and MJ’s Coffeehouse. He says he hopes that the new owners will love it just as much as he has.

So as the camera pans back from the Allen Theater and MJ’s Coffeehouse in Annville, PA, we see the sun setting over the rooftops, Skip locking the front door of the theater and grabbing his wife Martha’s hand. And as the two stroll away smiling, they are remembering with much fondness how grateful they were to have the chance to be a part of the local community and help people to forget their troubles just for a little while. So long friends. Come back and visit us some day. I’d say this would make a fine ending to the movie wouldn’t you?