Reflections on Civic Life and the Pandemic: Tom Golden on Empty Parking Lots and Dive Theaters

When I was 10, I went to Sayville Theater for my friend Glenn’s birthday to see Ant Bully. I wasn’t very thrilled about it, because I correctly predicted it would suck. Then my summer camp took me there a few weeks later to see, yet again, Ant Bully. Most of the movies that I have seen in this theater have been dull and bad. It plays B-list movies, you sit in lumpy seats, and the décor references the 1980s. But, the tickets cost 5 bucks and this makes the place accessible for many. The movies are not what makes this place appealing; instead, the opportunity to spend a cheap night out with friends and family makes the Sayville a community staple.  This is the only theater that can still pack people in any day, any time. But now the parking lot is empty.

I have this fear that the Sayville Theater and many others like it won’t be here on the other side of the pandemic. Capitalism uses crises to enact austerity measures and art is always one of the first industries to get the axe. I’ve never been a defender of the petty bourgeoisie, but when Disney helps save the local gargantoplex that charges $18 a seat while cheap movie houses fall, I can’t conjure anything other than anger. I don’t know what my life looks like if I hadn’t spent it sinking into dingy movie theater chairs and getting lost in the dusty stacks of used bookstores. I worry that months down the line, when we all come out of quarantine, that the businesses that we care about will not have survived the economic fallout from the virus. And our cities’ character, their unique sensibilities, will suffer. I hope my anticipatory grief for this loss of the Sayville is unfounded. May it be there on the other side of the pandemic. May we come up with ways to support small businesses through this tragedy.  

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  1. This concern applies to many of our small businesses here on the SouthSide and throughout the Lehigh Valley. If stimulus payments prioritized local, independent businesses before any large corporations, that would make a big difference — as would ongoing stimulus payments to individuals whose ability to patronized these businesses has also bee curtailed.

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