The New Main: Phase 2

By on November 8, 2017

Ketchum continues upgrades to keep customers at Ephrata’s downtown theater

The corn has been popping and the seats have been filled. The New Main, formerly Ephrata Main Theatre, has been showing movies under the new management of Penn Ketchum since June and the local theater magnate is looking to become a regular fixture in the Ephrata community.

“We spent the summer focused on showing movies, popping popcorn, sort of getting everything together. Now it’s time to start bringing in the rest of the ancillary stuff,” said Ketchum.

The ancillary stuff consists of modern amenities many moviegoers have been asking for. Once such item is a new Coca-Cola Freestyle machine. Soda might be a small cog in the movie theater machine, but the small details make for a greater experience.

“It’s like the one we have in Lititz. You give the customer a cup and they can come over here and (design) their different (drink) flavors,” said Ketchum, who is a managing partner at Penn Cinemas, with theaters in Lititz and Wilmington, Del.

The popular soft drink machines offer a wide array of flavor possibilities. Removing the access panel to the machine reveals dozens of different syrup bags, which — with the touch of a screen — allow customers to create drinks like vanilla ginger ale and raspberry cola.

Penn Ketchum of the Ephrata Main Theatre demonstrates the new Coca-Cola Freestyle machine. (photos by Preston Whitcraft)

“We were really happy to be able to get this installed here,” said Ketchum, who explained a new counter needed to be installed to safely hold the weight of the machine.

To date, Ketchum and his owner-wife Aimee, have invested $30,000 in new concessions equipment. The popcorn is now the same recipe as Penn Cinemas, with new corn and new oil. Other little things added to the bill over the past four months.

“We’ve made some basic changes to stabilize a bread-and-butter concession stand and now that we have our legs under us, we’re beginning to inch forward to expand the menu items.”

Ketchum hopes to have hot dogs and other warm food on sale for the opening of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” on Dec. 15.

The other popular request Ketchum received immediately upon taking over operations concerned gift cards.

“We got a lot of requests from people wanting to buy gift cards,” said Ketchum. “They are now available.”

Taking over the theatre and its history was not something Ketchum took on as a mere business endeavor.

“We (wanted) to get us up to a level where we could be worthy of the architecture we are working with. The theaters are so beautiful,” said Ketchum. “At the same time, we are really respectful that this is a small town … so whenever I can get a (re-release movie for) a $5 ticket I can do that. That’s an important part of what we’ve been hearing from customers.”

The New Main recently ran Disney’s live-action “Beauty and the Beast,” a film which did not show previously in Ephrata when it was released in March 2017.

“We can be true to the history of the theater, but also move it forward to modern standards,” said Ketchum, something he did immediately by replacing the theater seats.

Penn Ketchum, owner of the Ephrata Main Theatre, is shown at the entrance of the theatres with a “keystone” advertiser.

He has heard no complaints about removing the old seats, which were replaced with high-back seats. The old theater seats were offered to the public and donated to the Susquehanna Stage Company.

“We weren’t just going to back up a dumpster,” said Ketchum.

The combination of the new seats and the old slope of the theater floor have added some sightline problems, which Ketchum and his crew have adjusted with the use of seat and foot boosters. Now that those new seats are being filled with paying customers (who can now reserve seats and tickets online), the next step for The New Main is to incorporate an advertising program.

In the entryway to each theater is a floor to ceiling welcome from WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital, the theater’s “keystone” advertiser. With WellSpan in place, Ketchum is eager to open up the opportunity for other local businesses. He said businesses like restaurants and those who serve the general public would be a perfect advertising fit for those looking to capitalize on his audience.

“It’s part of the theater being viable,” said Ketchum about the advertising program. “It’s critical and we are not sustainable without it.”

Ticket sales do not cover the operating cost of a movie theater.

“What I’m focused on is delivering a product that has the excitement and enthusiasm of an audience so that advertisers want to be in the theater,” said Ketchum. “WellSpan is here because they know people are coming here with their families. We have a great family audience.”

One difference visitors from the previous Ephrata Main Theatre to The New Main will notice is the absence of alcohol.

“We’ve had more people say they are now returning here because they don’t have to worry about alcohol. More people are happy that we don’t serve beer than people who say they miss getting a beer with a movie,” said Ketchum, who again noted the majority of moviegoers at The New Main are families.

The family and community focus is important to Ketchum. Since taking over he has spoken at the Rotary Club of Ephrata, met with community leaders from the Ephrata Area Chamber of Commerce and The Ephrata Alliance, and is working to help develop the Economic Development Organization.

Ketchum is in for the long haul.

Michael C. Upton is a freelance writer specializing in arts and leisure. He welcomes comments at somepromcu@gmail.com and facebook.com/SomebodiesProductions.

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