In a theater field occupied by megacorporations like Regal and AMC, smaller theater chains like Mr. Gunsky’s operated by maintaining good faith with their surrounding communities, and the Chabot Theater was no exception. An important source of income for the theater came from pre-show advertisements paid for by local businesses. Small theaters like the Chabot rely heavily on community engagement to get by, especially in today’s movie landscape dominated by streaming services.
In 2019, CineLux put the Chabot theater up for sale. Fearing the potential loss of a Castro Valley landmark, Paul Keim of Smalltown Society—a collective of local artists and community advocates—partnered with the First Presbytarian Church of Hayward to purchase the theater. The sale, which was completed in June of 2019, marked the start of a new chapter in the theater’s storied history.
Having been an employee of the theater in the early 2000s, Mr. Keim has first-hand knowledge of the Chabot’s importance in Castro Valley culture. Recognizing the potential to create a community hub of local arts and entertainment, Smalltown Society have worked to revitalize the theater over the past year of operation, including a new schedule of midnight vintage film screenings and a wider range of independent films. Additionally, the group has future plans for incorporating stage and musical performances into the Chabot’s programming, providing a platform for local musicians, actors, comedians, and more to showcase their talents. Prior to the start of stay-at-home orders in California, the Chabot had already begun incorporating segments of No-Name’s Record Room—a showcase of local artists filmed at One Bad Apple Records right here in Castro Valley—into its pre-show schedule.
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the theater has temporarily closed its doors to in-person viewing. In addition, Smalltown Society has had to delay plans for potential enhancements to the theater, including the addition of another screen and brand-new theater seating. However, the Chabot continues to operate online through digital screenings of films from a variety of independent studios. The theater also holds live Riff-Alongs of classic films à la Mystery Science Theater, encouraging audience interaction for a communal theater experience.