BY RACHEL THIBAULT
If you’re like most grad students, you are probably always on the lookout for food, drink, and entertainment on the cheap. Free seems to be our buzzword. So perhaps grads should pay attention and check out a new theater and hangout spot in Easthampton called Popcorn Noir.
The theater was opened just two weeks ago by Easthampton couple Kristen Davis and Tom Doherty, who had contemplated starting a business when they noticed the vacant space at 32 Cottage Street, next to Mt. Tom’s Homemade Ice Cream. In early September, the couple signed the lease and with unprecedented speed (two months) renovated and redesigned the new space, doing most of the work themselves with support from friends and help from the community.
Popcorn Noir resembles no other local theater, and that’s the whole point. The cozy space has an occupancy of only 20, but offers large comfy armchairs, a sofa, and bar seating as well as table service so you don’t have to miss a minute of your movie.
Doherty, who also works full time in Greenfield, explained why they choose Easthampton for such a venture.
“Easthampton is unique in that it is big enough and close enough to other art/film-friendly population centers to sustain a business like ours, but not too big so that we would get lost in the fray after the initial buzz wears off,” he said. “For this area and especially for the town, we’re a total novelty. Very few things are open late. Of course, there are no movie theaters. Easthampton residents are very proud of their town, somewhat envious of Northampton and are ready to fully embrace our unique business.”
Popcorn Noir operates as a membership club ($10 for a year, $25 for VIPs), and titles of films are not released to the public but only to members. Members receive film schedules in advance and VIPs have the opportunity to reserve seats for a screening ahead of time. If you show up for one day, all you have to do is sign in and membership is free for the day.
The theater doesn’t screen first-run flicks. Instead, films are organized by theme and genre, catering to all age groups with kids favorites in the early hours of the day and adult-oriented titles in the evening and late nights. Films screened are a mix of the classic, cult and foreign. Highlighted programming includes a director of the month (November belongs to a famous mockumentary-maker), a spotlight on female directors and films from the AFI Top 100.
Since the movies are free, one might wonder how they plan to make any money. One way is to sell a wide variety of concessions as well as craft beers and wine. Davis, who has extensive experience as a chef and restaurateur, noted that her menu provides several options for vegans, gluten-free diets, healthy kid-friendly snacks while still appealing to the average American movie goer.
“It’s still in its experimental phase, and some things on the menu will stay others will be replaced by new things,” Davis said. “I’m always tweaking my menus to try and excite the public.”
Their signature treat is, of course, Popcorn Noir—popcorn drizzled with Mexican chocolate and cinnamon.
Not being tied to a new-release schedule allows for endless creative possibilities and the ability to build nights with special themes—such as Japan Night and ‘40s Night (complete with era-appropriate music in their late night lounge and the invitation for members to arrive in costume). Future programming will also include more work presented by local filmmakers (short films by locals had a good reception during Halloween weekend), and residents have expressed an interest in hosting a bi-weekly film series.
So far, Popcorn Noir patrons have included groups of teenagers in the afternoons, families and young people in their 20s and 30s. But the concept seems to be catching on with other folks, too. Doherty said that a handful of Cottage Street business owners and residents have already established themselves as regulars.
“We do hope, in the long run, to host and/or organize some local film festivals, as well as serve as a venue for unique performances involving light projection, sound and stage,” Doherty said.
Popcorn Noir is located at 32 Cottage Street, Easthampton. Open Wed-Sun, with late night screenings/lounge until 2am on Friday and Sat. nights. They can be contacted at 413-529.4647 or at firstname.lastname@example.org and have a Facebook group with complete schedule information (“Popcorn Noir”)