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A historic Maine movie theater is for sale for $1.3 million. Will anybody save it?

It’s time to pass the torch. But who will step up?

The historic Colonial Theatre in Belfast, Maine, has been closed since September while it awaits a new buyer, and amid efforts underway to save the beloved venue.Seeger Solutions Photography

Picture this: You leave your old life behind and decamp to a charming city in coastal Maine, where you’ve just taken over a quaint, 110-year-old movie theater brimming with history — and a tinge of Wes Anderson aesthetic.

You can live out your days overseeing a cultural institution, hosting a variety of movie screenings, lectures, musical events, and community gatherings.

You don’t even have to do much to get the theater, which went dark in the fall, in good working order. Scrape together $1.3 million — give or take — and you would have this “turn-key operation” back in business in no time.



This is the pitch the owners of the Colonial Theatre in Belfast, Maine — and those around Penobscot Bay who adore the venue — are making in hopes of appealing to the right cinephile or patron of the arts to keep the local landmark alive.

The historic Colonial Theatre in Belfast, Maine, is for sale, and features three functioning theaters.Seeger Solutions Photography
The theater has quirky touches around every corner, including hand-painted murals and art deco design elements.Seeger Solutions Photography
An old payphone inside the Colonial Theatre is one of many old-school touches inside the venue, which closed late last year.Seeger Solutions Photography

Ever since the space shut down in September, there’s been lots of interest in buying it, said Mike Hurley, who owned and operated the theater with his wife, Theresa Bagnardi, for 27 years before retiring.

“We just kind of set off a little wildfire and now we’re hearing from interested parties pretty much every other day,” Hurley said.

But the curtains remain closed.

If a new owner does emerge, they will inherit an unusual building, which boasts a pale green, purple, and orange exterior with old-school neon signage, topped with a fiberglass elephant.

Inside, there are three auditoriums with functioning projectors and unique monikers: “Star” and “City,” which each have 120 seats, and “Dreamland,” which seats 160 moviegoers and features a balcony and stage — a vestige of the days when there were live performances before a film would begin.

There’s also a concession stand that can churn out fresh batches of popcorn — but for now, like everything else, it sits idle.


The largest auditorium is dubbed "Dreamland" and features a wide stage once used for pre-show performances.Seeger Solutions Photography
The "Dreamland" theater seats 160 people and features a balcony, stage, and red curtain.Seeger Solutions Photography
“All that stuff is the fabric of our community,” the real estate responsible for the sale of the Colonial Theatre, said of the space.Seeger Solutions Photography

The theater opened in 1912, on the same day the Titanic set sail from England. It was rebuilt after a fire in the 1920s but otherwise has continuously operated for 110 years, making it the oldest of its kind in Maine.

Whoever buys it will get the keys to more than just a movie buff’s playground. They’ll assume full responsibility for maintaining “a cultural icon,” said Mike Cunning, a longtime Belfast resident and real estate agent handling the sale.

Cunning remembers seeing blockbuster films at the Colonial, like “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and catching screenings of lesser-known documentaries that featured meet-and-greets with directors.

He also thinks back to “the number of people who had their first kiss or held hands in the movie theater.”

“All that stuff is the fabric of our community,” he said.

The property has been garnering attention from people outside the region this summer, with curious, wannabe proprietors letting their minds wander when thinking about the prospect of taking over the shuttered space.

“Can I afford to buy and run a small movie theater in the quaint town of Belfast, Maine?” film critic Tomris Laffly tweeted last week, after seeing a sign advertising the theater’s sale.

“It would be a swell life,” she wrote.

Still, as romantic as it sounds, turning a profit as a theater owner is a lot harder than it used to be. In the era of streaming services and deluxe cineplexes, smaller theaters have struggled for years. For many, the pandemic was the final blow.


A new buyer for the theater would inherit a concession stand complete with equipment to make freshly popped popcorn. Seeger Solutions Photography
The theater is a "turn-key" operation, open to a new owner.Seeger Solutions Photography
Areas of the Colonial Theatre remain untouched while it is closed.Seeger Solutions Photography

Hurley and Cunning both acknowledged that this type of business venture isn’t for someone whose only concern is making money.

One possible way to keep the lights on would be to run the theater as a nonprofit, like the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline and other small cinemas have done.

A group of locals rallying behind the name “Save Our Colonial Theater” is trying to do just that.

In a perfect world, they would buy the theater themselves, said Spencer Stephens, the group’s treasurer.

But if that’s not possible, they want to help any prospective buyers organize arts programming in the space, be it plays, musicals, or lectures and other community gatherings, to ensure the Colonial remains a cultural hub — even if those events “don’t make money.”

“We hope to expand the theater’s mission in ways that serve the community in as many avenues as possible,” Stephens said.

A fund-raiser to support the group’s efforts to convert the Colonial into “a thriving nonprofit community center” is ongoing, and so far they’ve raised $5,000. They’ll need either a large infusion of cash or a buyer willing to work closely with them to turn the theater into a public institution.

Comedian John Hodgman has promoted the effort, telling a local news station last month that he’s a “proud patron” of the theater and wants to preserve its mission.


No matter what happens, Hurley said he hopes the theater’s future owner has as much passion for the storied space as he and his wife did for so many years.

It pains him to leave the movie business behind, he said, and he still misses the bustle of the theater on busy nights, when he would work the door and chat with guests. But he’s confident the right person will come along.

“It’s a labor of love,” he said. “If you love people — and I certainly love people — I think that’s who it should appeal to.”

The "Dreamland" auditorium in the Colonial Theatre buildingSeeger Solutions Photography

Spencer Buell can be reached at spencer.buell@globe.com. Follow him @SpencerBuell.