Kyle Lampar, K’17, was sitting in his Senior Seminar on February 1st, 2017 when he received the news. Laptop open on his desk, skimming through Facebook Messenger, Lampar stopped cold when he spotted the Facebook post from his employer, The Alamo Drafthouse—the post announcing the theater’s abrupt closure on April 3rd, 2017.
“One of my friends was watching me from across the classroom–she said my face looked like I’d found out that someone had died,” said Lampar, who was an Alamo employee for the past year and a half.
At an all-employee company meeting that night, Lampar discovered the reason for the closure: a business decision. The Alamo’s lease was up, and property owner, EPR Properties, had decided to sign a new theater operator.
“It was devastating to me because as a company, the Kalamazoo branch has been one of the most successful Alamos ever. To have us be shut down for as something as stupid as capitalism is frustrating. You want to point your finger at someone,” said Lampar.
The Alamo Drafthouse is a theater chain based out of Austin, Texas with 22 locations nationwide, according to their website. The company was jump-started by a couple with a passion for film who ran their first theater out of their converted garage.
The company’s humble origins set it apart from the large, commercial theaters.
“The Alamo was unique for me because they deliver food to your seat, so while watching the movie you can enjoy some of their great food,” said Adam Edery, K’19, citing the Alamo’s famous milkshakes as his favorite option on their extensive menu.
The theater was well-known for its personalized movie-going experience, from in-seat service to special screenings of classic films with themed menus.
“It was a place I could go on the weekends and know that I had a group of people who supported me…Who can say at nineteen they’ve found a job that not only pays well, but they also enjoy going and it doesn’t feel like a job?” asked Lampar, stressing the support the company has given him and his fellow employees during this time of transition.
Another former employee Izzie Kerivan, K’17, said the Alamo’s welcoming, familial atmosphere impacted the greater Kalamazoo community.
“The Alamo was such a big deal to so many people,” said Kerivan. “Being able to be a part of that is just like ‘Wow, I did something important in this city.’ Which is weird because I was just bringing people popcorn and chicken tenders, but it meant something to so many people.”
Elanor Riley of Portage, MI started a “Save the Alamo” petition in February, claiming the closure would be detrimental to Kalamazoo’s business district. As of last week, the petition had 5,100 signatures.
The Alamo brought many patrons to Kalamazoo’s downtown area, including Sharat Kamath K’19 who would regularly attend the Alamo several times a term with his friends.
“I think most of the K students will either significantly reduce how often they go to the movies, as a result of the Alamo’s closure, or they will start going to the Goodrich Kalamazoo 10 theater or Celebration Cinema in Portage,” said Kamath.
To many, the Alamo was a staple of the Kalamazoo community.
“All of these artistic responses and action is a reflection of what the Alamo means to the community,” said Lampar in reference to the online petition. “For example, every time we do a kids camp, those ticket proceeds go to Loaves and Fishes downtown. We felt like a member of the community rather than a corporate entity.”
Although the theater was meant to close on April 3rd, they were still open for business last week, said former employee Kerivan.
“Every time I go in there now, we only have popcorn and bottled soda and M&M’s. It’s just sad. It’s not the Alamo anymore, it’s just a normal movie theater… It’s sad to see that aspect of downtown going away,” said Kerivan.
Despite only being in Kalamazoo for three years, it is clear that the Alamo has made a mark on the community.
“You think of Kalamazoo and you think of the Alamo. Whatever new that goes up there, I don’t think they’ll have the same sort of impact,” said Lampar.