Arts + Entertainment

fr strandAn iconic symbol of downtown Waynesville’s glory days is back. 

A quintessential movie marquee for The Strand theater was hoisted into place last Friday, reclaiming its rightful spot above the benches and lampposts of Main Street’s quaint-but-classy streetscape.

travel strandIt never ceases to amaze Lorraine Conard.

“It’s a little bit magical,” she said. “You walk in and there’s this energy and excitement, a heartbeat within the community — I’m always so grateful and thankful for the people who come in.”

art frIt never ceases to amaze Lorraine Conard.

“It’s a little bit magical,” she said. “You walk in and there’s this energy and excitement, a heartbeat within the community — I’m always so grateful and thankful for the people who come in.”

Sitting in the front room of The Strand at 38 Main in downtown Waynesville, Lorraine and her husband Rodney are the owners of the movie theatre. A beloved destination for many years within the town, it lay dormant for far too long, only to be purchased, renovated and revived by the young couple.

fr thestrandWhen Rodney and Lorraine Conard took the keys to the shuttered Strand movie theater two years ago, the hulking shell was like a blank canvas full of promise — a tad dusty, worn and tattered, but it was loved once and surely could win Waynesville’s heart again.

The old Strand movie theater in downtown Waynesville is finally getting a new lease on life after two false starts in the past decade to revive the shuttered Main Street icon.

The building was bought in foreclosure last year by Rodney and Lorraine Conard, who have already begun renovations to transform it into a live performance venue.

“I have just always loved the building,” Rodney said, ever since he watched Flash Gordon travel to strange, fictional lands at the old movie theater as a boy.

Following a romanticized dream of owning his hometown theater is ultimately not what drove him and Lorraine to save the building, however. It was far more utilitarian: Rodney needed warehouse space for his thriving business buying and refurbishing used barcode readers, a niche business to say the least.

The economic downturn meant plenty of retailers were going out of business and unloading their inventory of barcode readers for cheap. And as a result, the business prospered.

Rodney is business partners with Lorraine’s brother, who initially started the venture.

“(The business) started literally in my brother’s closet,” Lorraine said.

It grew to fill part of the Conards’ basement and then the whole basement.

That is when they decided to start searching for somewhere to house all of the barcode readers.

Happenstance, divine intervention or a little of both led the Conards to The Strands’ doorstep. After looking for about a year, the Conards bought the building that formerly housed The Strand. The property was in foreclosure when the Conards bought it for $182,000, according to county land records.

It did not take long for them to decide to revive the theater aspect as well.

“We walked in and saw the stage was still there and everything,” Rodney said. Soon after — within three seconds, according to Lorraine — they realized that they needed to keep at least part of The Strand for its original artistic purpose.

Lorraine is a popular singer-songwriter based in Waynesville with a large and loyal following.

“This is the best of both worlds,” Rodney said. “We can save the building.”

Under the Conards ownership, the building will take on several different faces. It will act as a storage space for the inventory of bar-code readers, an office, retail shop and 80-seat performance venue.

When the couple bought the structure, it was barely more than that. The building had no electricity, no heat, no air and no plumbing.

“It was a shell of a building,” Rodney said.

Currently, the Main Street entrance is covered in plywood. The long, thin entrance hall that once featured a ticket booth and ramps leading down to the theater or up to the balcony will now become retail space. The Conards do not yet know what the retail space will house, or whether they will run a store themselves or lease it out.

And, people will now enter the theater from an alley door off Wall Street rather then Main Street. The entrance will have a “speakeasy feel,” Lorraine said.

The theater space will have 80 seats and keep its original stage and rounded walls. The remaining space will house the storage and office space.

Construction started in October, and Lorraine said they expect to finish the storage and office space by late summer or early fall. However, she is not sure when a store and the theater will open, but they plan to hold several fundraisers to help with their theater renovation efforts.

Lorraine has several ideas for events that the theater can offer, including a Thursday night music series and lunchtime speakers.

The Strand’s stage will prominently feature local and regional artists. And, Lorraine tossed out the idea of having local restaurants provide food if it hosts lunchtime events.

“Our whole goal with the theater is to pull together local businesses,” Lorraine said.

But, the community will ultimately dictate what shows the revamped Strand will host.

“What the theater becomes is totally dependent on the community,” Lorraine said.

The couple has even gone so far as to post a survey to its Facebook page, asking people what type of events and who specifically they would like to see.

“It is not a for-profit venture,” Lorraine said, adding that they simply want it to be self-sustaining and “contribute to the revitalization” of Waynesville’s downtown.

But, for the small theater to survive, people will need to come out and support it.

“Come out and be apart of downtown,” Lorraine said. “It takes a little effort on the individual’s part.”

Downtown business owners often hear that they should stay open later or host events, but then they don’t get the foot traffic or attendance required to make the events sustainable, Lorraine said.


An institution

The Strand opened on Main Street in the 1940s, an era before TVs were a mandatory household appliance and people flocked to movie theaters in droves. It operated as a movie theater until the late 1970s when it changed into a primarily performance venue for The Haywood Regional Arts Theater group.

Because it was so popular and stayed open for so long, The Strand became a beloved institution in Waynesville. Those residents who had the opportunity to visit it remember the theater fondly.

In 1993, however, HART moved into its own performing arts center on Pigeon Street, and The Strand was left empty.

On two separate occasions during the past decade, attempts were made to revive The Strand, but their dreams never came to fruition.

• In 2005, Joey Massie, whose family founded The Strand in the ‘40s, announced plans to transform the venue into a movie theater and pizza joint, but the idea never became a reality.

• In 2010, Richard Miller, a downtown Waynesville businessman and property owner, announced plans to turn The Strand into a combination movie theater, live performance venue, beer brewery, art gallery and restaurant. That concept never came to be either.


Lend a hand for The Strand

Lorraine and Rodney Conard will host a fundraiser to help with their renovations to the old Strand movie theater on Main Street in Waynesville on May 6 at the new Headwaters Brewing Company in Waynesville. Admission will cost $20 and include one Headwaters brew paired with a specially made chocolate from Chocolate MD in Sylva.

Check out

Hidden behind 16 feet of Main Street storefront, the inside of The Strand Theater looks like a cave. The floor slopes down to a black stage surrounded by tall, black walls. Old theater chairs are stacked on the wall closest to Wall Street.

Tools, random pieces of furniture and a few lights are scattered around the interior. A ramp leads up to the balcony, which is little more than wooden beams overlaid with plywood.

But all of that is about to change.

“I can see it all,” developer Richard Miller said, looking around the vacated building. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Miller has renovated several other properties, including buildings at the corner of Church and Main Streets. He acquired the theater in a trade for apartments and condos last year, he said.

The theater has been closed since the early 1980s, and opening The Strand again will cost about $1.4 million, Miller said. His next step is raising $1 million from investors who can contribute between $50,000 and $250,000. Waynesville has secured a $300,000 grant from the state’s Main Street Solutions fund to renovate the theater.

“We are offering a chance to own a piece of Waynesville and a piece of Waynesville’s future,” he said.

Kevin Sandefur, founder of Headwaters Brewing Company, said he thinks the renovated theater will draw more tourists.

“I think it will be a huge draw to the downtown area because there’s not an attraction on Main Street,” he said.

Sandefur will be opening a microbrewery in the theater. He also won $8,000 in the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce Business Start-up Competition this year to buy brewing and bottling equipment so he can start selling his beer out of The Classic Wine Seller on Church Street, which is also owned by Miller. The area at the Strand will serve as a small distribution center, he said.

He has established five beers he will serve at both the Strand and The Wine Seller, including a rich, robust chocolate porter; an Irish red; an ale that’s one of his favorites; a hoppy, citrusy IPA; a lager; and his award-winning Black Eye Rye.

Sandefur said he also plans to create specialty beers flavored with local produce. He said he’s both excited and overwhelmed by the grant.

“It puts a sense of urgency on my plans,” he said. “But if anyone can do it, we can.”

Sandefur is a full-time emergency room nurse at Harris Regional Hospital. He works three 12-hour shifts a week but plans on spending some of his own time on the construction since he has a contractor’s license.

“I feel I can invest some time and sweat equity into it,” Sandefur said.

The first steps will be leveling the floor that slopes down to the old stage and fixing the plumbing, Sandefur said.

Sandefur’s brewery will be located beneath the existing balcony. The balcony overlooks the old stage and is perpendicular to Main Street. Although the old stage will be removed and replaced by a kitchen, the balcony will stay.

The old balcony will be walled in and turned into an art gallery. Another lower balcony, opposite of the existing one, will be built over the kitchen with restaurant seating.

An affordable Italian restaurant will occupy the center of the first floor, and a new stage will be built on the wall adjacent to Main Street.

Miller said he envisions a variety of performances, including Sunday morning gospel music accompanied by brunch.

Although the Main Street grant is a start, Miller said he and others will not receive the money until the building’s renovations are complete.

“It’ll be a good thing to have a building that’s been empty for 25 years open,” Miller said. “It’ll bring a lot of new life to downtown.”

From the time the project has enough investors to start construction, it will take 14 months to complete, Miller said.

Downtown Waynesville merchants hope a plan to remodel the old Strand theater as an entertainment venue, restaurant and microbrewery will return the former icon to a Main Street magnet once again.

“We are excited about it. We think it is certainly needed here in Waynesville,” said Tom Massie, owner of Massie Furniture. “I think it will bring a lot of people downtown at night who will be exposed to Main Street and see things to come back and buy.”

Those who grew up during the heyday of Friday night features and Saturday matinees remember the line at the former Strand movie theater stretching a block and a half down Main Street. In the days before television, many people went religiously every time a new picture came to town, recalled Bette Sprecher, who grew up during the era.

During the post-World War II years, there were even dueling downtown movie theaters stationed across the street from each other. The Strand remained in operation until the early 1980s when attendance eventually withered too low to remain operational.

“TV kind of ruined the theater business,” said Massie.

Ed Kelley, owner of Ridge Runner Naturals gallery on Main Street, can’t wait until the new venue at the former Strand opens its doors.

“I have been saying this for ages, that the Strand needs to be turned into a brew pub kind of place,” Kelley said. “I think it will enhance what we already have to draw people here.”

Kelley is a musician and appreciates craft beers, so he will likely be a regular. But as a business owner directly across the street, he’s already plotting how to tap into the presumed bump in downtown nightlife.

“I think I will get trickle down from it,” Kelley said. He hopes the evening foot traffic will inspire merchants to stay open later.

“Waynesville pretty much rolls up the sidewalk at 5 or 6,” Kelley said. “I think it will give people some options of things to do in the evenings, which is something we seem to lack.”

It may also motivate more redevelopment.

“If people see things happening, that is good PR, and that can actually enhance somebody’s perception of what Waynesville is or is going to be,” Kelley said.

That’s exactly the outcome Buffy Messer, the director of Downtown Waynesville Association, was hoping for when chasing a grant to make the Strand venture a reality.

“The project will spur more interest and growth not only in our downtown, but also in our community,” Messer said. “An economically vibrant and growing downtown is not just good in itself — it is vital for a prosperous region.”

Besides, merchants could use some rosy news, she said, not only due to a two-year recession but a winter hammered by snowstorms that kept shoppers holed up at home.

“It was just a really rough winter. The snow came every Friday. It killed their weekends,” Messer said of the merchants. There are certainly signs 2010 will mark a turn-around based on downtown development in recent months. In addition to half a dozen retail shops and a couple new professional businesses, two large anchor buildings have been filled. Main Street Artist’s Co-op moved into the space vacated by Furniture Village and Davis Clothing opened in the former Towne Square space, which had been vacant two years.

There have been two new restaurants to open as well, Nico’s Café and soon Café 50, both of which remodeled downtown spaces in recent months.

While Waynesville’s downtown has been a shining model for Main Street revitalization and the envy of small towns across the state, the once-beloved Strand has remained shuttered. Then a dose of good fortune arrived in February. The state announced a pool of grant money through the new Main Street Solutions Fund, designed to drive economic development by assisting small business owners in downtowns.

“It was the first opportunity we had been given in years for small business,” Messer said. “I couldn’t look back and say I didn’t try.”

Messer and the owner of the Strand, Richard Miller, toiled day and night to complete the application. The grant required an exhaustive business plan and putting it together by the 30-day deadline was be tricky. Luckily, key pieces were already in place. Joey Massie, the Strand’s owner before Miller, had a similar plan to transform the space into an entertainment venue, restaurant and bar. He even had architectural drawings for the interior remodeling work and a business plan. Massie never got the project off the ground, however, because the renovations were cost-prohibitive.

Massie’s architectural drawings and business plan provided a foundation for the application. Meanwhile, a local beer brewer, Kevin Sandefur, happened to have a comprehensive business plan in his pocket for the brewery angle. Sandefur created a business plan the previous year in order to enter the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce Business Start-Up competition.

“We wouldn’t have made it if there hadn’t already been some paperwork in place,” Messer said.

Competition was stiff. There were 29 applications requesting $7 million — but only eight were awarded and $1.95 million given out.

The Strand venture will obviously compete with other downtown restaurants and bars. Jennifer Ewart, owner of Nick and Nate’s, a popular Main Street pizza restaurant known for its outstanding selection of microbrews, wonders whether there will be enough business to go around, particularly during winter months. Nick and Nate’s generally has a wait list going by 6 p.m. during the height of summer tourist season, but the winter months are “very slow,” Ewart said, citing that as the true test facing the Strand venture.

A downtown Waynesville project that would put a live entertainment venue, a microbrewery and a pizza restaurant together in the old Strand Theater on Main Street has been awarded a $300,000 grant. Gov. Beverly Perdue will visit Waynesville this Friday (May 28) to see the project firsthand and to talk with other Main Street businesses.

Waynesville businessman Richard Miller owns The Strand, and he credited Downtown Waynesville Association Executive Director Buffy Messer with encouraging him to apply for the grant.

“I give her all the credit for bringing this to our attention,” said Miller.

Miller will partner with other entities to pull off the project, including Headwaters Brewing Co., which is owned by Kevin and Melanie Sandefur. Headwaters Brewing Co. was just last week named the winner of the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce’s Business Start-up Competition, which comes with an $8,000 award.

Miller said the grant will be awarded to the Town of Waynesville, which is then obligated to give it to the developer who restores the building where the new businesses will be located. The money can’t be used for furnishings or business equipment, he said, only for permanent building upgrades.

In a best-case scenario, Miller said the project would be open for business by summer 2011.

The partners in The Strand project include the town, the Downtown Waynesville Association, The Strand Dynasty LLC, Headwaters Brewing Company, Delano’s Pizza Company and the Haywood County Arts Council.

In addition to Waynesville, seven additional communities will receive a total of $1.95 million through the state’s Main Street Solutions Fund. The grants are earmarked to “assist planning agencies and small businesses with efforts to revitalize downtowns by creating jobs, funding infrastructure improvements, rehabilitating buildings and finding other growth opportunities.”

“We know that some of the most creative and innovative economic development work is being done through small businesses and other economic partners in our downtown areas,” said Gov. Perdue. “Main streets can be at the heart of North Carolina’s economic recovery with the right support and investment. For every $1 invested by the state, an additional $4.72 will be invested by the local community."

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