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Amsterdam's last movie theater closes, ending long tradition

Amsterdam's last movie theater closes, ending long tradition

Owners move employees to its Johnstown location
Amsterdam's last movie theater closes, ending long tradition
The Emerald Theater in Amsterdam has closed.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

AMSTERDAM -- The last year-round movie theater in Montgomery County has closed, leaving the city of Amsterdam without a hometown cinema experience for the first time in a very long time. 

The 10-screen Emerald Cinemas announced it was closing via a sign on its door, a recorded message on its phone system and a Facebook post Tuesday. The post was from the Johnstown Movieplex, which is owned by the same company. It said that all of the operation's staff and equipment had been absorbed into the Johnstown operation. 

"The owner of our theater made this decision in hopes of providing our customers with a better quality movie experience by focusing more of our attention on one location. We will still be offering our monthly senior days and hope to see all who have traditionally gone to Amsterdam at our theater. We still honor Emerald Cinemas gift passes," reads the message.

Amsterdam native and local historian Bob Cudmore, who writes a history-themed column for The Daily Gazette, said his research indicates the city of Amsterdam has had an active movie theater since 1899, when early silent films were shown. He said Amsterdam at one time supported three downtown movie theaters, the 1,400-seat Rialto theater, built in 1914, which primarily showed stage productions; the Strand, a movie theater on the south side of East Main Street, later renamed the Mohawk Theater; and the Tryon Theater, built on East Main Street in 1949, which was known for its "sliding seats." The first movie shown at the Tryon was Amsterdam native Kirk Douglas' breakout film "Champion," for which he received his first Academy Award nomination for best actor. 

More from this week: Our top stories Feb. 23-March 1, 2019

"Amsterdam always seemed to enjoy a show, it had these three big downtown theaters when I was a kid. I remember my father telling me about the early days, when they had more than three theaters, they had five or six in the 1920s," Cudmore said

The Emerald Cinema was owned by partners Joseph Tesiero and Bruce Wendell, who also own the nine-screen Johnstown Movieplex in the Johnstown Mall, about 11 miles away. Tesiero and Wendell reopened the Johnstown Movieplex in December of 2009. It had been closed the prior October, briefly leaving Fulton County without a year-round movie theater. 

Tesiero said he and his partner acquired the Emerald Theater operations in 2000. He he had operated the former Amsterdam Mall movie theater for two years before closing it. The Cranesville Block Company, owned by the Tesiero family, owns the former mall, now called the Riverfront Center.

"There's not enough movie-goers to support 19 screens between Fulton and Montgomery counties," Tesiero said. "We took it over 18 years ago, when it was failing, from the guy who built it, and we were able to keep it on an even keel for 18 years, but as movies come out closer to the [home viewing] release date, you have less and less people going to the movies, plus our age. I don't want to work the crazy hours, my partner doesn't. It's not running a gravel pit," he said.

According to the National Association of Theatre Owners, the number of indoor movie theaters in the United States has shrunk over the past 20 years from 7,031 in 1999 to 5,482 in 2018, as the industry has faced challenges from home movie internet streaming and other forms of entertainment.

Tesiero said he's operated a total of four movie theaters in his life, including Johnstown, Emerald, the former Amsterdam Mall theater and the Madison Theatre in Albany. He said Amsterdam movie theaters have faced increasing pressure from theaters in other parts of the Capital Region, which provide the opportunity to "make an evening of it" including dinner and a movie, while Emerald seemed to lack that kind of traffic. 

"I'm not going to tell you the experience at Emerald was the same as Crossgates, they have stadium seating. There are different style theaters you can have, this was a middle-of-the-road one, and we don't think Amsterdam can support a higher-end theater. Other people may think that and try it," he said.

"We decided to focus on Johnstown because it was more economical to run, and because it has stadium-seating and Amsterdam doesn't, Tesiero said. If I could put the Johnstown theater anywhere, it would be closer to being between the two towns, but neither location is ideal for both communities, but it has sufficient screens to service both." 

Tesiero said he and Wendell were leasing the location, but do not own the building. 

Darci Van Nostrand Wemple, co-owner of the Ozoner 29 Twin Drive-in, located only a few miles from the Emerald, and the El Rancho Drive in Palatine Bridge, located in western Montgomery County, said her seasonal businesses remains strong. She said she anticipates the Ozoner 29 will benefit from some of the Emerald's former customers, once they open up for the drive-in season in April.

More from this week: Our top stories Feb. 23-March 1, 2019

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