On My Mind: The Manor Theatre Goes Dark, And It Won't Be Alone

May 25, 2020

When I talked to Brad Ritter about the Manor, he tried not to get emotional. But sometimes he couldn’t help it.

“What’s been the best part about this job?” I asked him.

There’s a long pause. I thought he might not have heard me.

“I said, what’s been the best part about this job for you?”

“No, I got that,” he said, choking out the words. “I just had to regroup for a second.”

Ritter started at the Manor 26 years ago, running the projectors. Since 1999 he has been the manager. He has spent nearly half his life working there – inside its dark rooms, screening films, or in its bright lobby, welcoming customers. He got to know the regulars by name.

“The art film crowd, they’re very loyal,” he says.

The theater’s official corporate name is the Regal Manor Twin, but nobody calls it that. It’s just the Manor. For 73 years, the Manor has shown movies at its home on that little stretch of Providence Road in Myers Park. For years it was just about the only place in Charlotte where you could see independent films, documentaries, movies that might be worth seeing even if they’d never be blockbusters. But last week, the company that owns the theater and the landlord that owns the property announced that the Manor is closing for good.

They didn’t say the Manor is closing directly because of the coronavirus. But the virus and the fallout from it has crippled businesses all over the world, from giant chains like JC Penney to little family-owned diners and coffee shops. Even if you never went to the Manor, there’s probably someplace like it that you love. One of the tragedies of the virus is that the place you love might not be around when we get back to normal, or whatever will pass for normal by then.

Brad Ritter remembers the times when a small movie at the Manor hit it big, like “The Blair Witch Project,” which was so hot the Manor basically showed it every hour. And he laughs at the smaller moments, like the time he screened a film about Genghis Khan for critics, and one of the reels was on backwards, so all of a sudden the horses were running upside down.

Ritter came to Charlotte from Ohio to work in the accounting department for a software company. He didn’t have many friends when he got here, but he loved movies, and so the Manor, in some ways, became a friend. And then the people became friends, too. His assistant managers, Brandy Ray and Michael McCauslin, both worked at the Manor for more than 20 years.

On March 16, the Manor was showing “Emma” and “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.” Ritter found out on a conference call that the theater would be closing down the next day because of the virus. It was intended as temporary. But Ritter had a sense that things were different.

“The night we closed,” he says, “I had a feeling that we weren’t going to open back up. I just felt, this is the opportune time that you're going to not reopen us. I mean, these rumors have been around since I first started here. So what I did was – I’m kind of proud of myself – right before we closed, I went out and …”

He chokes up again.

“I went out and punched out an employee pass. And I gave it to my assistant Brandy. And I told her to keep it because it could very well be the last ticket we ever punch out. So she has the last ticket ever punched out at the Manor.”

Ritter kept a few things, too. Some posters. A few photos someone took of the theater years ago. Ritter especially likes one of the curving stairwells, built in the days when movie theaters were built with style.

He’s probably spent more time at the Manor than anyone else alive, so of course it hurts him to see it go. We’re all hurting right now in one way or another. Some of us have lost people we love. Some have lost their jobs. And then there are the smaller losses, some place or thing that matters to us, now forever gone missing.

One thing about a movie, especially one in a theater, is that it can create a new reality. You go into a dark room for a couple of hours, and while you’re in there, that’s all you know. And if the movie is powerful enough, it changes you. When you finally walk out into the light, the whole world is different.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column normally runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

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