By LESLIE HENDERSON
Special to Atmore News
My Mimaw, Gloria Johnson, has a Strand Story. Her Aunt Clione Pugh worked there around the early 1950s and would bring Mimaw with her. They rode the train from Canoe Station to Williams Station. Mimaw remembers watching Aunt Clione get the theater ready to open, sell tickets, popcorn and drinks. The Strand looked a little different back then.
My Mom, Lisa Smith, also has a Strand Story. Her father, Ronald Wasdin, brought nature films around to the local theaters in the 1970s. Mom remembers him preparing the film to feed through the projector and she would fall asleep on the couch in the projector room while the movie played. The Strand looked different then.
My Strand Story started in 2007. I was 14 and it was the first place Mom let me go alone. We lived a few blocks away but I got to walk there and watch a movie with a friend. I don’t remember the movie or, sadly, the friend I sat next to but I remember taking one look at the place and falling in love. When the movie was over, I clearly remember asking the owners, Wayne and Dawn Kelley, when I could start working there. “As soon as you can drive yourself to work,” Wayne told me. I took that as a promise. The day I got my drivers license in April of 2009 I went to the theater and asked for a job. Wayne and Dawn gave me one as soon as they had an open position and I was the happiest kid on the planet.
I worked every other weeknight and most every weekend. My good friend Josh Husband worked there as well and trained me on what to do. When we came in for the day we started the popcorn, restocked the candy, made sure the fountain drinks weren’t running low, cleaned the windows, the lobby and the theater itself. I sold tickets, popcorn and drinks, just like my Great-Great-Aunt Clione.
After I had worked there a couple of years, I was trained on how to prep the film to feed through the projector. The huge rolls of film sat on a big metal disk to the right of the projector and the film had to snake through the top of the machine and around six sets of rollers before coming out of the bottom and getting rolled back onto a new metal disk. I recently learned that while some of the process was changed, the projector itself with the six sets of rollers was the same exact one my Grandpa Ronald loaded nature films to.
I worked at The Strand Theater for the most part of five years until in 2014 due to lack of ticket sales and rising prices of film rental, The Strand closed its doors. It looked a lot different that day, the whole place was dark in a way that seemed permanent.
That is why I am grateful for and excited to be a member of Pride of Atmore, a group dedicated to saving The Strand Theater and revitalizing all of Downtown Atmore. Thanks to the help from Delta Regional Authority, The Community Foundation of South Alabama, many many other grant foundations, a huge amount of community support and the current work being done by Rolin Construction, The Strand Theater will be reopening again in the near future. Although it will look a little different, closer to the original, what makes me the happiest is that my daughter, Naomie Rae Lawson, and stepchildren, Samuel Henderson and Emily Henderson, will have the opportunity to have their very own Strand story.
If you would like to donate, please call 251-253-8553