WHEATLAND – It’s the end of an era as long-time employee/owner of the Cinema West movie theater, Rena Kittelson, is retiring and the theater faces an uncertain future.
The movie theater that pre-dated Cinema West was called the Ramona and was located diagonally across the street. It was attached to a parking garage and in the early ‘70s an electrical fire demolished both the parking structure and the theatre. No one was willing to put forth the money or effort to rebuild it, so the kids of the community banded together (including the current county attorney Doug Weaver who was a teenager at the time) and raised the funds themselves to build the current metal structure with help from the Town of Wheatland.
Chuck Thorne who was a pharmacist in town, called his brother Ed who had been a theater manager and asked if he would come run a theater in Wheatland. He agreed and moved to Wheatland with his family. Cinema West opened in 1974 and Kittelson was there working box office and concessions. When Ed was ready to retire in 1989, Joe and Stacey Reichardt were looking to relocate to a small town and get out of the city life of Denver and running a movie theater seemed like fun. Joe and his daughter Donna painted the murals in the theater while local artist Holly Jones painted the lobby. When the Reichardt’s decided to retire in 2004, they asked Kittelson if she wanted to run the business and she jumped at the opportunity.
Kittelson always believed the theater really belonged to the kids. Without their efforts and determination, the theatre would not have been rebuilt. For that reason, she almost never showed “R” rated movies. She chose instead to focus on family friendly features and provide a place for youngsters to go in the evenings.
“I’ll miss the people the most and particularly the little kids,” Kittelson said with a smile. “Kids are hilarious. One little boy came out the other night and tugged on my hand and asked ‘who won?’ He was talking about the fight between Godzilla and King Kong. Those are priceless memories.”
When production companies decided to stop creating films and just have digital copies it could have been the end for the little theater that couldn’t afford the steep price tag to convert to a digital system. The Town of Wheatland came to the rescue, funding the switch to digital and keeping the theatre up-to-date with the times. The Town also helped in replacing the worn-out seats and various other repairs over the years.
But the movie business has changed quite a bit over the past 17 years. There are more options for entertainment and with streaming services and on-demand movies available almost as soon as the movie is first released, revenue has gone down significantly. The future of movie theaters all over the country is questionable.
Kittelson is retiring to have more time for travel and seeing family and is long overdue for some time off. The Town of Wheatland is taking possession of the theater at the end of the week and it is uncertain if the theater will reopen under Town management, be sold or be shuttered forever. There are just two more nights left to watch what may be the last feature film at Cinema West. The last movie playing is Godzilla vs. Kong. Come down to the theater to wish Kittelson well, stay and see the movie or buy some buttery, salty movie popcorn to enjoy at home to savor with the memories of the many magical nights at the theater.