In 2001 the only movie theater in Petaluma closed its doors largely because the company that owned it had recently opened a huge 16 screen theater 11 miles away in Rohnert Park. That left residents two options – drive to the new Rohnert Park theater or drive to Novato (both are about the same distance). Imagine, a town of 55,000+ with no movie theater. Bear in mind that scenes from many movies have been shot in Petaluma, most notably American Graffiti. Residents were not happy, especially those with teens.
Seven young teenage girls decided to do something. To make a long story short, in 2005 they got our town a new theater. (You can read about opening night and the history at SF Gate.) Our town owes a huge debt of gratitude to NoÃ«lle Bisson, Elizabeth Comstock, Ditmer, Liza Hall, Sarah Marcia, Taylor Norman and Madison Webb.
It’s not just that we again have a place to watch movies locally, it’s what the theater has added to the community, especially downtown. The old theater was at the North end of town in a commercial/business area. You had to drive to get there. The new theater anchored a huge redevelopment effort on edge of the historic downtown shopping district.
Boulevard Cinemas and the accompanying Theatre Square retail/office/urban housing center are only a couple of blocks from the true heart of downtown where local shops and restaurants dominate the retail landscape. Also, the entire downtown area is within easy walking distance for many residents.
Many feared the new development would bring more chain stores and ruin the small town feel, but so far the theater and accompanying retail stores have been a huge boon for our town. The new theater, restaurants, and shops have added greatly to what was already a wonderful downtown.
In the past couple of years the movie theater has sparked a revival of night life in downtown Petaluma. On Friday nights teens and tweens swarm to the theater in droves. When new releases come out, long lines are not uncommon. Because the new theater is downtown, it’s easy to go out to dinner and movie because you can walk from one of the many local restaurants to the theater. Every month I go with a group friends to have a beer then see a movie. We would not have done that without a downtown theater.
The theater is thriving, and that is driving people to downtown pretty much every night of the week. Every time I go to the movies or walk around the theater district, I see friends. It’s become a great place to hang out and relax, and enjoy the community.
This shot was taken as part of the 2008 Photo Challenge at www.photochallenge.org.