For decades, the Williamston Sun Theatre has provided local and affordable entertainment for the residents of the city. Today the theatre remains locally owned and still provides inexpensive leisure for all who seek it.
During the 1930s many American’s found movie going to be a welcome release from the everyday woes of the Great Depression. Movies quickly became rooted as an American past time.
By the 1940s Williamston residents enjoyed their own movie theatre. According to Williamston residents Misty Potter and Brittany Burgess, the theatre used an early projection system called a “Magic Lantern” that was even out-dated for its time. A need for a new theatre in Williamston arose after a small fire destroyed the projection system and bigger crowds were gathering to see the movies.
In 1946, Sam Montgomery and his son Richard built the Sun theatre at 150 W. Grand River. Like most theatres of the era, it featured a large, lighted marquee that still operates today.
“After some years, Gary Wright brought the theatre from the Montgomery’s and eventually sold it to Russ Robitalle and his wife in 1979,” Burgess says. Robitalle and his wife felt the theatre, which was poorly kempt, had become an eyesore. They wanted to revamp the theatre and make it more family orientated.
The Robitalle’s made repairs for a little over a month before opening the theatre to the public. They repaired the roof and repainted the walls inside which had been disfigured by water damage. The theatre’s screen and seats were replaced as well. But the interior was not the only place were work was done.
The marquee, which had been a staple of the theatre’s origins, was in need of work. Potter says many of neon lights no longer worked and the sign was loose and often “blew in the wind”.
After 35 days of work, The Robitalle’s opened the theatre doors in February of 1980 and showed the movie “Scavenger Hunt”. The Robitalle’s continued to own and operate the theatre for 23 years before selling it, but the theatre remained in the family.
In 2003, Robitalle sold the theatre to his son Dan. Burgess says Robitalle wanted the theatre to stay in the family. Dan and his wife, Lisa, are the current owner/operators.
Although his father made the most drastic renovations to the theatre, Dan and Lisa have made a few changes themselves. Most recently noted are the new seats with cup holders in the theatre and the new paint on the walls.
“Everyone in town LOVES the Sun Theatre,” boasts Barb Burke of the Williamston Chamber of Commerce. Burke attributes some of the theatres success to its affordability. “They show current releases, all seats are only $3.50, and their concession prices are cheap,” she says.
Potter also attributes the theatre’s history and family-friendly atmosphere to its success. The theatres original equipment and sign help maintain its historical significance. It also features a relic from the early 1940s, a cry room. The room, still in use today, offers parents whose children cry during the movie a separate room to watch the movie.
The theatre offers show times and date on its website suntheatrewilliamston.com and the doors open a half hour before each show for ticket sales.