Empire Theatre evolves once again

Thu, 07/23/2020 - 5:15pm

The building that now houses the Empire Theatre has been many things over the past 100 or more years. It’s been a skating rink, a live theater, a movie theater, of course, and now it has even another incarnation: artisan emporium.

According to theater owner Gary Pollard, the movie business has been in steady decline for quite some time. With the delay or cancellation of new features this year, the industry is in free fall, and Pollard said the old films he’s been running have failed to draw a crowd (except for perhaps “Jaws”).

“It’s pretty obvious this space is much more valuable as retail than it is as a theater,” said Pollard. He added that the week beginning July 27 may be the last week he shows movies this summer, and perhaps forever.

So this year he’s decided to tear out the seats against both walls inside the theater and turn the space into the Empire Emporium, a Vintage and Artisan Market. Inside the cool and spacious area are hundreds of clothing items, souvenirs, jewelry, tee shirts and other items. The objects are all curated by Heather Wolfenden, a former teacher who has carved out a new career in vintage clothing.

Pollard said he had been speaking with Wolfenden at the beginning of the year, and she got in contact with mainland vendors, such as the Nostalgia Shop on Wickenden Street in Providence, and there are now more than 50 vendors showcasing their wares inside the Emporium.

With business down due to the pandemic, Wolfenden said the vendors were happy to have another sales outlet on the island.

“It’s been great,” said Wolfenden. “It’s a really nice collection.” Business has been brisk.

The Empire Emporium is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., except on movie nights (Mondays and Tuesdays) when the shop closes at 6 p.m. For more information visit empireemporiumblockisland.com or its Instagram page.