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The Pageant continues its love story with film more than four decades since its opening 

The Pageant's Miles Montalbano and pup enjoy the movies.
Angel Huracha
The Pageant's Miles Montalbano and pup front and center at the movies.

With more than four decades of history, those looking for a unique movie experience have been able to rely on the Pageant Theatre in Chico, California.

The Pageant is the go-to location to catch independent films, foreign-language treasures, and eye-opening documentaries. You’ll only see Spider-Man there if he decides to show up to the Rocky Horror Picture Show screening.

Owner Miles Montalbano currently oversees operations and carries on his family legacy of running the theatre.

"We don't have any aspirations of becoming bigger. We just kind of do what we do. And we're able to sustain that way." Montalbano said. "No one's looking at this as their retirement fund. It's something we do out of the pure love of it. And I think that that comes across and appeals to people."

The Pageant in Chico, Calif.
Angel Huracha
The Pageant in Chico, Calif.

On the eve of its 40th anniversary, the theatre was forced to close when the state shuttered some businesses to decrease the spread of COVID-19. What could have been a cause for celebration became the start of a battle for survival.

“We were really looking forward to a celebration with our community,” Montalbano said. “We weren't able to do that, and the idea of just kind of going out on that note didn't feel good.”

No theatre was safe from financial devastation during the pandemic, including those showing major blockbuster titles.

When speculation of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy for AMC Theatres — the world's largest cinema operator — was made public, the question arose, if a movie giant like AMC is struggling to stay afloat, how will smaller arthouse theaters fair?

“ a certain point, it started looking pretty dire as far as being able to financially keep the space,” Montalbano said.

The Pageant shut down for more than a year and a half. It was unable to secure any business loans to help it stay afloat.

“It got really stressful. At a certain point, we weren't sure if we would get this grant, and the landlord's canceled our lease,” Montalbano said. “We didn't know if we're going to be able to just financially do it.”

Montalbano attributes the survival of the Pageant to two things: a grant that went through Congress aimed specifically at independent theaters and music venues and the support of the local community.

“So that relates back to our mission statement, it's just a love of film as an art, and community and neighborhood, it's a neighborhood theater,” Montalbano said.

During its closure, the theatre offered membership subscriptions, online streaming titles, and film tickets for future showings to anyone in the community who wanted to provide a hand.

“It's why we're here, you know, it has always been,” Montalbano said. “It’s how we navigated the change from film to digital was with community support, and it's how we navigated the closure of COVID, and we wouldn't be here without it.”

Although audiences are slowly making their way back to the movies, being an independent theater owner has become exponentially more challenging since the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Montalbano vows to keep the wheels moving so the Pagent can continue to be a space for the community for many years to come.

Angel Huracha has been a part of the journalism field since 2006 and has covered a range of topics. He is a graduate of Chico State with a Bachelor's degree in news-editorial and public relations with a minor in English.