Former Projectionist Focuses On Toms River Theater’s Closing

Photo by Bob Vosseller

  TOMS RIVER – With the AMC Seacourt 10 Movie theater now closed, it’s not hard to feel like a little piece of the community will go with it. Back in the day, it was Loews Theaters, then Sony Theaters, until finally switching to AMC. But most of us knew it simply as Seacourt theater.

  A 10-screen cinema was huge for its time, and unheard of now because of oversized recliner seats take up more space. Seacourt had two of the biggest theaters in the country at the time that held over 500 seats each. And you walked into a huge lobby with a high mirrored ceiling filled with hundreds of Hollywood style lights.

  I had the pleasure of working at Seacourt for 10 years, during what most would call the heyday of its time. I started out selling popcorn and cleaning theaters, then moved into the projection booth, until finally becoming a manager. It wasn’t an easy job, but it was a lot of fun. Chaotic, exhausting fun.

The Asbury Park Press had a lot of ads when the theater opened. (Courtesy Newspapers.com)

  Seacourt was one of the rare theaters at the time to pop its own popcorn. Employees would pop nonstop as thousands flocked in from the beaches on a rainy summer day or holiday weekend to see the hottest movies. For most of the 90s it was THE place to go. Lines would run outside and down the sidewalks for movies like Lion King and Star Wars. And when Seacourt upgraded its surround sound, the whole building would shake as a twister made its way across the screen or a dinosaur let out it’s mighty roar to the cheers of the sold-out crowd.

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  At the height of it all, Seacourt employed over 50 employees. And if you worked there, you were like family. The theater never closed, so you would spend Christmas, Halloween, and 4th of July together. Eating left over Thanksgiving meals from home while ushering thousands into the theater was commonplace. I personally know of over a dozen couples who are still together and happily married with children from meeting at Seacourt, including myself.

  I remember a regional manager once visited during an employee meeting. He wanted to know how our turnover rate was so low compared to the other theaters. We all looked at one another in shock. A long-time employee named Ben (who proudly made sure to let anyone who would listen know that HE ripped the first ticket at Seacourt) stood and said, “Well… this is my 2nd family, so when it gets tough, we are here for one another.”

  And he was right.

The projection booth served as a museum of film posters from days gone by. (Photo by Patrick LaMorte)

  I could tell stories for hours of late-night movies with employees, after-hour laser tag games, and butter flavored topping drinking contests, but one that always stuck out was the time we lost power on a rainy 4th of July weekend. The theater was packed, 3,000 strong, and you could barely push your way through the lobby. A thunderstorm brought every seaside visitor from the beaches to the cool confines of our theater. Interesting fact about film projectors, all you need is the power to flicker, and they will shut down to stop the film from burning. So as the storm grew overhead, we all knew it might get dicey. A quick flash, crack, and then silence as the theater lobby went dark, and the emergency lights kicked on. Then the silence turned to murmurs and footsteps as the wave of angry and confused customers swarmed out from their theaters and surrounded the box office. Much of the next hour or two were a blur, but we got to close early that night, and we all hung out into the wee hours laughing and retelling the story to one another as we fixed all the film piled on the projection room floor.

The opening day ad as it appeared in May of 1990. (Micromedia Archive Photo)

  I was sad when I heard Seacourt was finally closing. It was my first job, and it was my favorite job. It was sad to know I won’t be able to visit again, and smell the popcorn filled halls, or look up into the mirrored ceiling and see the reflections of my coworkers. Seacourt brought an entire community together and made a lot of peoples’ lives better. It is the end of an era, but the memories will last a lifetime.