GREAT BARRINGTON >> So it has been 20 years since the Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington got started. It really is a terrific story. So many of us are grateful for this wonderful venue, including a lot of people from Columbia County and Connecticut who come to see a film, eat and shop.
There really are hometown heroes in Great Barrington and my nomination for this year goes to Richard Stanley. With his partner, the late Joe Wasserman, Stanley built the movie theater that precipitated so many changes in the town that is now lauded as the best small town in America.
When we got to Great Barrington in 1970, Railroad Street was a mess. Buildings were vacant. Dingy bars drew a clientele that was very far removed from today's hipsters. Then one night, the old Taconic Lumberyard suffered a terrible fire.
The sirens blared through the night and Roselle and I went down to what is affectionately called the Pig's Lane that leads down to Great Barrington. We watched this enormous fire that devastated the lumberyard.
A net gain
To put it mildly, the whole area was not particularly inviting even before the fire. Then Richard Stanley who owned the Barrington House decided to apply for a series of state grants suggested by former banker Hank Ervin.
It took a lot of work and sweat equity but the Chamber of Commerce and a Simon's Rock business manager named Mike Hoag landed the grant, which was awarded to correct urban blight. Hard to imagine that Great Barrington once had urban blight but it did and a parking lot rose from the ashes.
The phone and electric companies had to be convinced to bury their stuff and town counsel Ed McCormick got it all done. You really have to hand it to Richard Stanley — he knows how to smell out who's got power.
So now we had a parking lot. At the far side were some buildings that Stanley and his partner bought. They couldn't figure out what to put there but the idea of a movie theater took shape.
Out of mainstream
At the suggestion of Abby Schroeder, Stanley and Wasserman went to Hoyts movie chain, which agreed to run the theaters. At the beginning, Hoyts played big box office movies. That annoyed many of the local literati and their friends who wanted more artsy movies.
So the pair went back to Hoyts and said that they wanted to take back the management of the theaters. Hoyts agreed, warning Richard that when you played art films people bought less popcorn and soda. In the movie business, the concessions are what pay the bills.
Stanley admits that he's never been able to figure out how to get people to buy the soda and popcorn. About 10 years into their movie business, Kelley Vickery came along and asked Stanley and his legendary theater manager, John Valente, to let them use a small theater in the middle of the week for the Berkshire International Film Festival.
That yearly event is now a staple and part of what makes Great Barrington so great. It doesn't stop there. Stanley has always been extraordinarily generous to groups like CATA, Multicultural BRIDGE and even in a small way to WAMC.
Of course, there will always be people who argue that the Triplex was a boondoggle. I disagree — I think that the theater has made the town. When each movie empties out you can hear the departing patrons discussing where to go for dinner.
Richard Stanley is a great businessman. He balances making money with paying back to the community. As a result, he makes a lot of money. He is a success and part of that success comes from the fact that he keeps on giving to the rest of us. We should have more like him.