A venue that brought cinema — and ice cream treats — to Stoughton’s vibrant downtown bid a bittersweet adieu last week.
Amid an economic crisis that has shuttered businesses across the country and other circumstances beyond the owners’ control, Main Street’s Cinema Cafe is closing down after three decades of serving up the latest in film, pizza and sweets.
Co-owner Patty Lange told the Hub the business was already feeling the effects of the pandemic in January, as film distributors rely on international markets more than domestic ones.
“Because the virus was running rampant in other countries, we weren’t getting as many new features,” Lange said.
The crisis has put the entire industry on pause, she said.
Filming new movies requires being around large groups of people for extended periods of time. If there are no new films, there’s nothing to project onto the cinema’s screens. She pointed to the AMC Theatres chain — how even larger corporations’ venues are struggling.
“We can’t survive on that,” she said.
And so, some of the cinema’s 8-13 part-timers will have no choice but to pursue other employment, Lange said.
“It’s been difficult to let them go,” she said. “We are like a big family here.”
That, and Patty and Denny are 69 and 70, respectively. Two years ago, they put their independent theater up for sale with hopes they would get a bite or two. The two — even 30 years later — still pour their hearts and souls into their cinema.
“We make our own products from scratch,” Patty said. “(Denny) does a lot of the maintenance and cleaning. We both work in the kitchen a lot.”
“We figured it would be better to start the process of pulling out and selling,” she added.
But none of the nibbles ever indeed became bites, and so came the heartbreaking decision to close down permanently — without much hope there could be a resurgence once the pandemic lifts.
“I don’t think it’s sunk in,” Patty said over the phone while cleaning out the cinema building.
She said being there was like her second home.
“It would be nice for someone to try and carry on the tradition,” Patty said.
That tradition involves 30 years of building memories with employees and families, she said. Patty and Denny’s daughter grew up in the cinema. She said she’s seen employees who worked there who went on to start families of their own.
Those same employees — and the rest of the Stoughton community — voiced their support for the Lange family. They aren’t just losing a movie theatre, but a gathering place.
“(The community response) was very overwhelming,” Patty said, admitting she had tears in her eyes over the phone. “It provided us with a lot of insight into how we provided for them.”
How the cinema provided for its community became more evident as Patty took a little walk down memory lane.
She recalled how Cinema Cafe got its start when it was still inside the Badger Theatre, later sold to the Stoughton Village Players in the late 1990s.
She remembered how the Lange family purchased the current building they have now in the mid-1990s, and how they continue to operate both buildings at the same time for a few years. Ultimately, the current building had more space to put screens, whereas the Badger Theatre only had space for one.
She reminisced how the family continued to make pizza from scratch as the business evolved, and how they renovated the current building’s front space into a cafe, complete with Chocolate Shoppe ice cream. Patty said people started coming to the cafe to just hang out or host family reunions, wedding receptions and baptisms.
And so when it came to inquiring about the Lange family’s next step, Patty said she simply didn’t know.
“It’s been a major part of our life for so long,” she said. “It’s very difficult.”