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Empress Theater in Chewelah opens in 1912.
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Sometime in 1912, T. Y. Brownlow opens the Empress Theater in the town of Chewelah, located in Stevens County in northeast Washington state. The venue represents Brownlow’s fourth attempt at running a moving picture theater in the city, his previous three venues having failed.
Inexplicably, the Empress seats a full 300 people, or slightly less than one-third of Chewelah’s entire population. Although without the amenities of motion picture houses in bigger cities such as Spokane or Seattle, the Empress was unique in that it provided its own power – a gasoline engine connected to a three-kilowatt generator. Though primitive, Brownlow reported that the setup provided good, clear pictures for the Empress. Admission prices were 10 cents for children and 15 cents for adults.
Writing to the trade magazine The Moving Picture World in 1914, Brownlow noted a particularly interesting lesson he had learned with respect to theater economics. It seems that some of his regulars began to complain at one point that his admission prices were too high. After several months of hearing these comments, Brownlow finally relented and lowered them.
Unfortunately, attendance at the Empress did not improve. So, in an unusual move, he decided instead to raise his prices to 25 cents per show, although he also offered an expanded bill, including a handful of live acts. These “special entertainments” went over big, and Empress played to capacity houses. “Which only goes to show,” wrote The Moving Picture World, “that it is not the admission price people are interested in, but the kind of entertainment you give them” (MPW).
Manager Brownlow seems to have had a particular success with The Adventures of Kathlyn (Selig, 1913), an early serial film that broke the Empress’ box-office records despite screening in the middle of the week.
"Empress Theater, Chewelah, Wash.,” The Moving Picture World, April 4, 1914, p. 66.
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