HOULTON, Maine — A Houlton native, businessman and writer will be coming back from New Jersey to be the new owner of the Temple Theatre.
Charles “Charlie” Fortier, 55, a Houlton High School and University of Maine at Machias graduate, was announced as the buyer on March 16 in a post on the cinema’s Facebook page by Michael Hurley of Belfast, who has owned the business with Therese Bagnardi since 2002.
Fortier, who has written six books under the pen name Ralph Albert Gessner, lives in Carlstadt, New Jersey, and said that he is under contract to purchase the theater and expects to close the deal April 7 or 8.
“I was looking for a business opportunity,” he said Thursday. “I love movies and have seen over 10,000 of them, and donated more than 5,000 VHS tapes to charity. I own more than 5,000 DVDs. I also was a projectionist for the University of Maine at Machias while I was in college, so I have experience in the movie business. Now, running the cinema is all digital. It is all at the push of a button.”
In October 2015, Hurley, who lives in Belfast and has had the cinema up for sale for 10 years, announced that he was going to “give” the twin-screen theater away as part of an essay contest. Contestants were required to submit $100 with a 250-words-or-less essay about why they should be the next owner. Hurley said he needed a minimum of 3,500 entries before a winner could be selected from the entries.
Despite being reported on by national media outlets, such as The New York Times, CNN and The Hollywood Reporter, the contest ultimately failed due to lack of entries. So Hurley returned the entry fees he had received along with a note asking if anyone was interested in buying the theater.
In his essay, “Why I’d Be Perfect To Run The Temple Theatre,” Fortier spoke of his love of movies, his business experience, including five years working as manager of purchasing products at Simon and Schuster and 15 years as director of procurement strategy and analyses at Pearson PLC, a British-owned education publishing and assessment service, in New Jersey.
He noted that he saw the first Star Wars movie “twice — the night it opened” at the Temple Theatre, and “almost died” there while eating the since discontinued candy Pom Poms and nearly choking on them “laughing during the campfire scene in Blazing Saddles.”
He also noted what the movie house means to the town as a whole.
“I know how important the Temple is to the community even with the proliferation of Netflix and Redbox and want to dedicate my sunset years to keeping it going so it can instill the same wonder in others that I felt when I was kid,” Fortier wrote.
The purchase price was not divulged, but the building is assessed at $203,000, according to Houlton tax documents, while the adjacent parking lot is valued at $32,700.
Once the purchase goes through, Fortier expects to move into an apartment on the second floor over the 95-year-old theater and to undergo some training with Hurley.
“I have enjoyed working with Mike Hurley,” he said Thursday. “I think he is a really great guy.”
Hurley declined to comment about the sale to the Bangor Daily News. Fortier said that he does not expect any lag in movies being shown during the transition or to make any changes to the facility at this point.
But he does have some ideas in store for the future of the cinema.
“I am going to explore streaming, if there is an interest in viewing live theater in town,” he said. “I also may add a third screen for revival films after I get my bearings, if there is interest. Again the focus is to be an entertainment venue that delivers real value to attendees.”