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In 2009, the Aron Cinema in Campbellford in Canada was like hundreds of other small-town cinemas: ready to close its doors, faced with overwhelming competition from digital home entertainment and big-box complexes. Today, back from the brink of closure, The Aron is a popular cultural hub and an instructive model of economic renewal for other towns facing the loss of traditional institutions.
The difference in Campbellford was a cooperative initiative introduced led by local consultant, Russ Christianson. Christianson wasn’t willing to stand by and watch The Aron disappear. “The theatre had been open since 1947,” he says. “Attendance had declined and it was in need of modernization.” The Aron was one of the town’s only non-church gathering places, and a far more convenient place for movie watching than driving on dark highways to big-box malls. “As a core business in downtown Campbellford, the Aron’s closure could well have caused a ripple effect on other local businesses,” says Christianson.
The answer was a cooperative. With Christianson as the founding President, a group of local residents formed the Aron Theatre Co-operative Inc, determined to rehabilitate The Aron. A bond series was issued. The cinema was purchased. Grant money was raised for a digital projector and a marketing plan was developed to drive outreach to the community.
“Those first two years weren’t easy,” says Christianson. “The idea of pooling our community resources and volunteering time and energy to save the local cinema just wasn’t on people’s minds. But once the idea caught on, residents really stepped up to the challenges to make it work”, he says.
Attendance began to increase as movie programming improved. The new digital projector and sound system made a big difference in the quality of the experience. People of all ages started coming back to the movies in Campbellford. The Aron cooperative is now serving as a community hub and cultural centre, working, for example, with local schools to show educational films.
Christianson, who remains the cooperative’s President, applied his thirty years of consulting experience as a volunteer in his own town, “and,” he says, “I’m pleased to report that The Aron is now running a modest surplus, which will be directed into more improvements”. Anyone wishing to contact Russ Christianson to learn more about success story of the Aron or to inquire about cooperative business succession planning can reach him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
International Organisation of Industrial, Artisanal and
Service Producers' Cooperatives
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