This story was originally published in the Charleston Daily Mail on Friday, May 30, 2014.
Donald Moore knows everything there is to know about film projectors.
He’s sold bunches of them over his half-century running Moore Theater Supply Company on Lee Street. When a repair call came in, he could usually diagnose the problem over the phone.
Moore, 69, knows which lenses and bulbs to use, based on the screen size and the distance to the screen. He set up theaters all over West Virginia and its surrounding states, including a 1,200-seat movie house in the federal penitentiary in Chillicothe, Ohio.
Unfortunately, there’s just not much demand for his services anymore.
Nobody needs a film projector anymore because there’s no more film. The major movie studios stopped releasing movies on 35 millimeter film last year.
The West Side business is still hanging on, but mostly as Moore’s “man cave.” The space is filled with memorabilia, from old film canisters and projector lenses to movie posters and leftover theater seats.
“It’s just a thing of the past,” Moore said. “It’s a total different business. It’s nothing like it was.”
Here’s how it was:
At one point, Moore’s father owned 15 theaters throughout southern West Virginia, mostly in coal camps.
Every member of the family was expected to help out. On any given Friday night, Moore and his three brothers were at one of the theaters, selling tickets or concessions.
The movie business followed them home, too.
“We popped popcorn year-round in the basement, bagged it up and took it to the theaters,” Moore said. “It was hotter than hell.”
They also made up the preview reels in the basement, taking big rolls of movie trailers and cutting them apart with razor blades. They would pick the trailers they wanted to show and splice them back together with tape.
Each theater would run six movies a week plus cartoons, trailers and newsreels. They got their films from a distributor in Cincinnati. They only received one copy of each film, however, so theaters had to take turns.
“You just bicycled them from one theater to the other.”
It might be weeks before the new John Wayne reached the movie house in your hometown.
On the upside, going to the movies was pretty cheap back then. Moore said in the 1960s, regular price admission at his dad’s theaters was 75 cents for adults and 35 cents for children. On bargain nights—usually Wednesdays and Thursdays, when they played older movies—it dropped to 35 cents for adults and 15 cents for children.
Children could also get in for 15 cents on Saturday mornings, when the theaters would show cartoon reels. They could get a small popcorn and soft drink for 10 cents more.
The theater business started declining by the end of the 1950s, so Moore’s father diversified his business plan. He went to work for Charleston Theater Supply and, a few years later, opened his own theater supply business.
Moore started working with his father in 1962, after graduating from Stonewall Jackson High School. He took over the business when his dad died in 1966, and in 1969 bought out Charleston Theater Supply.
For years he sold everything from projectors, theater seats, movie poster frames and marquee letters. Moore still does the occasional stage curtain installation, although those are few and far between.
“Those jobs only come every 20 years. You put it in, you put it in right and they last forever,” he said.
He now uses the space as a workshop for his other business, the South Charleston Antique Mall, which he and his wife opened in 2005. The tools Moore once used to fix projectors now are used on items he plans to sell at the antique store.
He still likes movies—his favorites are “Shane: and “The High and the Mighty”—but he hasn’t been to a theater in years.
“They don’t match my expectations,” he said.
Moore said it’s difficult to enjoy himself, since he’s trained his eyes to notice every little detail about the projection.
Some things just aren’t like they used to be.