Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


May 1, 2013

A lot has changed in Welch over the years, and much is for the better

— — I was surprised when I learned last week from Bill Archer that the popular Marquee Cinema in Welch had hit a digital technology snag. Bill had been in McDowell County last week, and had spoken with Welch Mayor Reba Honaker, City Attorney Danny Barie, and a few others who apparently brought up the theater issue.

The theater, which opened for business back in 2005, apparently lacks a digital projector. And that, we are told, presents a problem considering that more and more of the new-release movies are moving toward digital technology. And, of course, most movies are in 3-D nowadays as well — even though traditional movie goers like myself still prefer their big screen experiences in high-definition 2-D. So apparently you must have a digital projector in order to secure the top new releases. That has prompted city officials in Welch to take action. Mayor Reba Honaker told Bill that the city’s building commission is now looking at ways to help raise the estimated $172,000 that will be needed to upgrade the projectors to digital quality and keep the theater open.

It is important for the city of Welch to maintain a theater. As anyone who has been to the city in recent years knows, the theater is the heart of the historic downtown district. And the big screen is literally located right in the middle of the city’s downtown. Honaker correctly points to having a theater in the city as an important quality-of-life indicator — just like good schools, attractive housing, good health care and good places to eat and shop.

She is absolutely correct. And I might add that things are quite nice nowadays in Welch. I wish there had been an indoor theater, a Walmart and a McDonald’s in the Welch area back when I was growing up in McDowell County. Sadly that wasn’t the case.

When I attended elementary school, and later high school in Welch, our attractions were a little limited. If you wanted to see a movie, you had to find a video rental store, or drive to Bluefield. Although I do remember the great Starland Drive Inn Theater in Kimball, and it was actually open for business during a period of time during my childhood. For whatever reason, the first movie I saw as a youngster at the Starland was the original “Dawn of the Dead.” Yes, the zombie movie about the people trapped inside of the giant shopping mall. So I’ve always had fond memories of that movie — and I also enjoyed the more modern “Dawn of the Dead” remake from a few years back — thanks to those childhood zombie memories at the old Starland Drive Inn. The Starland site is now a residential housing complex that has retained the Starland name.

We also didn’t have a Kmart or Walmart store during my high school years in McDowell County. But we did have a Magic Mart and Big Lots. Magic Mart is still a key business in the city, and it is still located just a few miles above Coney Island. However, the old Big Lots was closed several years ago. Back during the high school days, the two big attractions were really the bowling alley and the Sterling Drive Inn. Both are still open.

In fact, I spent an evening bowling in Welch just a couple of months ago with two old college buddies that I hadn’t seen for years. We also had dinner at the Sterling. Some things, I guess, never change. The Sterling Drive Inn holds special memories because that was my destination after graduating from Mount View High School. We didn’t have a project graduation back in the day for whatever reason — so my reward for finally earning my diploma was a good meal at the Sterling.

During my teenage years, I spent more time in Welch than I did in Bluefield. I didn’t have a vehicle of my own until the college years, so a big night out on the town while driving Mom’s vehicle usually meant driving to Welch — and not Bluefield. Welch was a 30-minute drive from the small town of Anawalt. Bluefield was an hour away. And without a theater, mall or even a Walmart to hang out at, the primary destination when driving to Welch was normally the bowling alley. But that was OK. It was a nice bowling alley back in the day, and it is still a great facility to this very day.

And so is the Marquee Cinema in downtown Welch. That’s why it is good to hear that city leaders in Welch are doing everything in their power to help with the digital upgrade and to protect and enhance their downtown area. That shows vision. It shows a spirit of cooperation. And it shows community support.

Kids nowadays expect a theater close to home. So do adults. It also helps when you have a downtown area that is alive with activity and foot traffic. A movie theater helps to bring such foot traffic to the downtown area in Welch.

I hope city leaders are successful in helping to retain this all-important downtown attraction.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at Follow him @BDTOwens.

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