When the news first broke that Ridgefield’s celebrated Prospector Theater would be opening a second location in Wilton Center, the town rejoiced. It was seen as the opportunity to have a quality boutique first-run movie theater and, even better, a chance to support an organization with a heartwarming mission of offering meaningful employment to individuals with developmental disabilities.
But in the one year since Prospector founder Val Jensen announced the Wilton expansion plans, the COVID-19 pandemic has decimated the movie theater industry, making even the strongest desire to support an organization as GOOD as the Prospector tough to sustain. As a result, Jensen confirmed on Tuesday, March 30, that she had decided to stop moving forward with efforts to open in Wilton.
“Streaming has always been our biggest competitor. In the past 12 months, we have traveled light years into the future and today streaming is more like white water rapids! It is because of this changing landscape that the Prospector Theater decided to negotiate an agreement to end our plans to open a second theater in Wilton,” Jensen wrote in a post on Facebook.
In addition, Jensen announced she would be temporarily shuttering the Prospector’s Ridgefield home location too, a move she told GOOD Morning Wilton in an email that meant “the darkest of days” for the organization.
One big contributor to the decision is the fact that Connecticut is seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases, both statewide and locally, including what Jensen said is a spike in cases in Ridgefield.
“The Prospector Theater has taken the extraordinary step to choose safety now, with the promise of sparklier tomorrows,” she said.
Jensen pointed to what she said was a crisis in the movie theater industry.
“Our largest trade organization, the National Association of Theater Owners, has warned that 75% of independent movie theaters will be insolvent within the next month. The two biggest movies we were expecting to show on the big screen, Black Widow and Cruella de Vil, would be released on Disney+ the same day as they opened in theaters. Without new content, and with COVID cases on the rise, the smartest and most strategic move was to press the giant pause button, and close our doors,” Jensen explained.
It was in February 2020 that Jensen made a joint announcement about opening in Wilton together with Kimco Realty, the owner of the Wilton River Park shopping and office complex on River Rd. in Wilton Center.
At the time, Jensen and Kimco confirmed that the Prospector would be taking over the movie theater space originally occupied by Bow Tie Cinemas, and planned to start renovations in September 2020 and open near the end of 2021. According to Hamlet Hub, the lease Jensen signed with Kimco was for a 10-year commitment.
Jensen and dozens of Prospects cut a pink ribbon last September outside the theater, where construction had already underway inside.
Kimco spokesperson Jennifer Maisch told GMW that the commercial developer had “no comment at this time.”
Jensen said she is still committed to providing remote work opportunities for Prospects (employees of the Prospector) to earn paychecks.
“There are many exciting new opportunities available to us and our good work is needed well beyond Fairfield County. Millions more Americans with disabilities have become unemployed, and millions more people, suffering from the devastating effects of ‘long-haul’ COVID have found themselves disabled – some for the first time in their lives. The Prospector can refocus our efforts on the areas of greatest need to fulfill our mission of including adults with disabilities in the workforce,” she added.
Individuals who want to continue supporting the Prospector organization and its mission can still do so through donations via the Prospector Theater website.