When we arrived on the island on Sunday the 13th, we were thrilled to see that the historic old Empire Theater appeared to still be open for business! On other trips here in recent years we have learned that the owner typically shuts down fairly soon after Labor Day, so this development was a pleasant surprise. It was a bonus that there was a movie playing the next night that was something we actually wanted to see, so we made plans to attend the theater the following night.
I had not been to a movie there for easily 20 years or more, largely because the family has generally gathered on the island in September and we seem to always miss the last few days of the movie season.
You can visit www.empiretheaterblockisland.com for more information about the classic old movie house. Just briefly though, it was built in 1882 originally as a skating rink, and converted to a playhouse not long after that. This probably explains the level floor, whereas most theaters have a floor that slants downward towards the screen or stage.
I remember as a little kid vacationing on the island in the ‘60s that we would always watch for an acceptable family movie to go see on those hot summer nights.
The seats are wooden with some minimal padding (leather?), and there is no air conditioning, but it is still wonderful to be there. The structure is barn-like inside with all exposed rafters and other woodwork. Creaky wooden floors throughout! Mrs. Working Stiff had never been to a movie there so I was very pleased to be able to share the experience with her.
One interesting note is that they must have some special booking arrangement that allows the theater to show a major release film for just one or a very few nights. I believe this is fairly unusual in the movie theater business. Generally a movie gets booked for at least a week, but I can see that in the context of an island resort with a small “captive” audience, it would make more sense to cycle a greater range of movies through for shorter engagements.
Being able to attend a movie there really helps to make this particular visit a truly classic Block Island Tour!
The Working Stiff