Middletown got its first multiplex movie theater last month when the 12-screen Westown Movies officially opened its doors on Dec. 20.
The independently-owned, $14 million theater created instant buzz around town in April when the Middletown Transcript first broke the news of its impeding arrival.
The excitement continued throughout the year as details of what the new theater would have to offer were gradually released through various news articles and the theater’s highly-successful Facebook page.
The theater’s arrival was not without drama of its own, however.
On Sept. 18, a fire broke out at the construction site when a hot ember from a welding torch ignited a layer of foam between the exterior wall and the structural steel at the exact moment co-owner Art Helmick and theater manager Rick Roman were being featured as the guest speakers at a Middletown Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon. Although the blaze created a column of fire and heavy, black smoke, it caused only minor damage that was repaired within days.
Then five days later, a 62-year-old worker with Newark-based Austin & Bednash Construction was killed while working to extend sewer service to Westown Movies.
The setbacks continued the following month when a planned Thanksgiving opening was pushed back to mid-December. Permitting issues than delayed a planned Dec. 18 opening for another two days.
Movie goers seemed undeterred however, with more than a thousand tickets being sold during Westown Movies opening weekend and the new venue receiving rave reviews from customers.
Westown Movies has only been open for two weeks, but its potential impact to Middletown could be huge in the coming years.
Town officials are hoping the theater’s draw will convince new retailers and restaurants to locate in the Westown Town Center commercial area, in much the same way the Middletown Walmart next door attracted new businesses after it opened in 2008.
Rick Roman, owner of the theater’s Ohio-based management company, said Westown Movies is hoping to expand its content in the coming year, including the possible addition of NFL football games and other viewing options unavailable at other theaters in the state.
“Our immediate goal is to polish our operations so they run just the way we want them to,” he said. “But our ultimate goal is to make Westown the best movie going experience in Delaware.”