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<B>Cinema 7 in Bennington is on the market. (Peter Crabtree)</B>
Cinema 7 in Bennington is on the market. (Peter Crabtree)
Cinema 7 in Bennington is on the market. (Peter Crabtree)
Friday February 1, 2013

ZEKE WRIGHT

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Southwestern Vermont's largest multiplex is up for sale and seeking a new owner.

Cinema 7, on Phyllis Lane off North Bennington Road, has been in operation since Melvin and Rena Stuart purchased the former truck terminal in 1995, converting the vacant space to a seven-screen movie theater.

The Stuarts had previously operated the nearby Cinema 1-2-3 in the current Home Depot plaza.

To continue operating as a theater under new ownership, Bennington's cinema will face the same monumental task as other theaters and drive-ins nationwide -- converting to digital projection as the movie industry phases out traditional 35 mm film over the next one to two years.

The cinema is currently listed with Phoenix Commercial, a division of Vermont Country Properties, for $1.2 million. For that, the buyer gets a 15,035-square-foot building on 2.89 acres conveniently located off the Route 279/67A interchange.

Now deceased, Melvin Stuart began his career in the theater business nearly five decades ago in Connecticut before becoming manager of New York City's famed Rivoli Theater, and then later divisional manager for all United Artists Theaters in New York City and Connecticut. The Stuarts purchased Cinema 1-2-3 in Bennington in 1988.

In its listing, the Cinema 7 property is described as unique and easily accommodating "mixed uses that would complement existing businesses in the area."

According to town records, the property is currently assessed at $1.3155 million and designated as "planned commercial," which town zoning describes as mixed commercial use with convenient access to major traffic corridors. All use changes for that type of district would require Development Review Board approval.

As its name would imply, the theater has seven screens, and in 2010, two were upgraded to take advantage of new releases in 3-D. But those improvements did not include fully digital projection technology, an upgrade that can easily run $70,000 per screen.

Several independent theaters in the area have launched fund-raising campaigns, including Manchester's Village Picture Shows Cinema and Hathaway's Drive-In Theatre in North Hoosick, N.Y.

On the online funding platform Kickstarter, the Manchester cinema is just over halfway toward its goal of $175,000 for digital conversion; while Hathaway's continues to sell drive-in speakers and recycled film reel earrings and also accept online donations toward its goal of $70,000.

Cinema 7 owner Rena Stuart and manager Steven Hansen did not respond to requests for comment.

The cinema has been listed for sale since at least late last year. Prior to being a cinema, the building was known as the St. Johnsbury Truck Terminal.

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