Peterborough theater up for sale

  • The Peterborough Community Theatre is up for sale.  Staff photo by Ashley Saari

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, February 13, 2017 9:28PM

With over a century of tradition behind it, the Peterborough Community Theatre lives up to its former name as a jewel of the downtown — but its future is currently uncertain.

Carol Nelson, owner of the theater, announced publicly last week that she is looking for a buyer for the theater and its assets. Nelson said she is currently working on other projects that need more of her time. And while Nelson, who purchased the theater two years ago from former owners Roy and Judy Mills, hopes to pass the theater on to another local who is dedicated to keeping the tradition of the community movie theater alive, she said, that’s not a requirement for the new buyer.

“I certainly would like for it to stay a theater, and I think that the community would like to see it stay a theater, but theoretically someone could come in and rip it all out and do something different with it,” said Nelson in an interview Friday.

Certainly, the community has been eager to support the theater in the past. A few years ago, while still under the management of the Millses, the community was faced with a choice: Pitch in to help cover the expenses of converting the theater from 35-millimeter film to a digital projector, or see it close its doors. More than 500 people through in through crowd-funding to more than cover the $45,000 cost — even raising an additional $10,000. 

And under Nelson’s management, donations were used again for a smaller project — $3,000 for descriptive video service used by blind or visually impaired movie-goers. 

Linda Greenwood of Peterborough said she was one of the many who contributed to the theater’s digital conversion, and she said she hopes that when the theater changes hands, the new owners will continue to operate it. 

“One cannot guarantee that, I understand that,” said Greenwood. “But it would be a real loss to the town.”

Greenwood said that she has seen the theater have to reinvent itself to stay relevant, inviting in talks and documentary films and other programming in addition to its showing of popular films. 

Those programs include partnering with PBS and public television for programming, a showing of a civil rights series and a documentary on the Black Panthers, including special guest speakers, as well as other projects.

That’s the kind of programming she’d like to see continued under new management, said Nelson.

Tyler Ward, of Peterborough, agreed that the theater was a great asset to have downtown. Ward said that at the time of the theater’s digital conversion, he was on the Heritage Commission, which had an interest in preserving the theater with its long history in town, and his family donated to the conversion personally as well.

Ward said that he hoped that the efforts of those that had been involved with fundraising efforts for the theater over the past few years wouldn’t see their efforts ultimately go down the drain.

“I guess it is a concern and would be a great shame,” said Ward. “But from my perspective, we knew we donated to a private business, and there is a risk involved in that.”

But Ward and Greenwood said their main hope is that the theater continues under new management — which is what most people have shown interest in when they have contacted her about the space, said Nelson.

While there have been groups interested in the space for other uses — a music venue or a dance space — most of the people who have approached Nelson so far are interested in maintaining the theater, she said. The sale does not include the actual location of the theater — that is owned by Susie Hunter and leased to the theater. The purchase would include the theater name and all its equipment, including the projector, screen, seats, signage, adaptive technology and even the popcorn maker. Nelson said she will be selling the business as a whole — those that don’t want to run a theater will have to take on the burden of selling the assets themselves. 

Nelson is selling the theater privately, not through a real estate agent, and declined to disclose her asking price, saying that she would discuss that only with interested buyers as part of the negotiation process.