Meridian Industrial


3/1/2023 | HOPE E. TREMBLAY


The film industry as a whole took a big hit when the coronavirus pandemic shut down movie productions and theaters around the globe. People looked to streaming services for entertainment, but when businesses began opening up in full force, many people flocked to theaters for a movie experience that can only be found on the big screen.

Agawam Cinemas was no stranger to the strains of the coronavirus pandemic, and owner Kimberly Wheeler is no stranger to rising up when things seem bleak – especially when it comes to her beloved theater.

Wheeler purchased Agawam Cinemas in 2014 after it was abandoned by the previous owners. The two-screen theater was in bad shape. In fact, Wheeler said it was condemned and the movie screens had shattered. But that didn’t deter her from building it back up.

“I had grown up coming to this cinema with my father,” she said. “To see it tattered and abandoned was utterly heartbreaking. I waited awhile to see if anyone else was up to the challenge of saving and revitalizing this gem of a cinema. It was six months later that I realized that if anyone was going to preserve its memory, it would have to be me.”

Wheeler had zero experience in the industry. She was an EMT and an EMT instructor with a background in emergency dispatch.

“This was an adventure that required a lot of learning,” Wheeler said.

Her love of movies and her memories of the theater fueled her drive to bring Agawam Cinemas back to life.

“I have always been a movie fanatic,” she said. “From a young age I grew up watching action and sci-fi classics with my father. By my pre-teen years I could practically recite every line from “Tremors,” “Predator,” “Jaws,” and “Aliens” by memory. Those were my favorite movies and actors back then…and still to this day. Classics from these eras taught me so many valuable life lessons that I carry into being a small business owner.”

Wheeler said she has a deep sense of pride every single day when she walks into her theater.

“It’s an honor to have been able to pick this torch up and keep it burning for the future generations to come. Seeing people’s faces light up when they walk into my lobby and exclaim ‘Oh my God…it’s the “Blues Brothers!”,” she said, adding that decorating the cinema lobby was the most exciting part of the revamp – “the life-size Deadpool statue seems to be a runner-up favorite for customers as well.”

Agawam Cinemas took a hit during the coronavirus pandemic, but Wheeler was able to remain afloat, offering full theater rentals and special events. But post-COVID-19 has created its own challenges.

“The most challenging aspect of owning a cinema is, hands down, the never-ending skyrocketing cost of utilities,” she said. “Post COVID-19 pandemic challenges that we’re faced with now are proving to be worthy adversaries. Recently I have had to face the realization that we need to adapt and overcome an entirely new set of challenges. Just when I think I have the hang of owning a cinema — bang — think again. The utility costs are astronomical and have the single-handed capability to crush everything that I’ve worked so hard to save.”

Once again, Wheeler accepted the challenge and adapted, reinventing what Agawam Cinemas offers. In addition to movies, the cinema now has live entertainment, with a line-up of celebrities coming in to participate in autograph sessions, photo sessions, and live screenings.

“My aim is to make our cinema an unforgettable experience for fans,” she said. “Fans will be able to come in and meet these celebrities, ask them questions, take photos and get autographs to commemorate their experience. We are taking the cinematic experience to an entirely new level for our customers.”

Actor Keith Coogan will be at Agawam Cinemas March 25. Wheeler said movie buffs may remember Coogan from classics like “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitters Dead,” “Adventures in Babysitting” or “The Fox and the Hound.” The event includes a showing of “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead,” a meet and greet and photoop with Coogan, and an autograph. Tickets are $30 at

Wheeler said since day one, Agawam Cinemas’ customers have supported her efforts but she continues to be delightfully surprised by their understanding.

“Whenever we’re forced to change our prices or adjust our hours to limit our utility costs as much as possible, they seem to immediately sympathize as soon as we explain it’s due to our current economic climate,” she said. “Many of these consumers are facing new realities of rising costs at home, so they’re able to understand.”

Wheeler said she and her staff work hard to provide affordable entertainment opportunities for families throughout the region.

“Our movie ticket prices are the lowest in the area, and we remain dedicated to keeping it that way,” she said. “Entertainment needs to be affordable. It’s become a luxury for some families and we need to try to keep it so that everyone is able to enjoy it. This is the toughest economic climate that I’ve yet faced. We’ve been forced to re-think our cinematic strategy or succumb to this horrible economic climate like hundreds of other small businesses in our area did.”

Tickets remain under $10 each and a large variety of snacks and appetizers is also offered.

Wheeler said she is inspired by her favorite films to keep moving forward.

“One thing that 90’s movies taught me is tenacity,” she said. “I’m not ready to give up, so adapt and overcome we shall.”


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