PHOTO: Fred and Mickey Rast, owners of Atlantic Cinemas
The only thing better than having so much history and so many fascinating businesses in town is knowing the business folks and residents who know the history and incredible stories around their places of business. Mickey and Fred Rast are a wealth of information about their Atlantic Cinemas theater, and their pride in the town and its people can’t be beat.
It isn’t easy running a movie theater these days. The mega theaters offer chairs that swivel, turn, spin, lie down or however you like to be positioned to watch the big screen. And the online companies offer so many movies on the home screen that fewer people are plunking down the dollars it takes to go to a theater.
The Atlantic Theater is different, for any number of reasons. First of all, it’s purely hometown! Small enough to feel comfortable and cozy, large enough to have five different theaters playing five different movies all at the same time. Right on First Avenue!
The owners, or their long time employees…some are second generation employees in the same family and siblings in others, which also speaks a lot for how nice it is here….are on premises and available for a friendly chat, a piece of information, or a response to a complaint if indeed there is one.
The Rasts also rent out their theaters for special events, birthday parties, celebrations, whatever ingenious ideas folks suggest for either live or screen entertainment. Businesses can hold seminars in the theater and individual film makers have been there to show their own films. The Rasts accommodate them all.
Doesn’t it sound like fun to have your own movie theater for a morning or afternoon? You can even bring your own DVDs to show!
Of course, the Rasts are well known for their generosity for fund raisers to help whatever the cause….those new defibrillators for the fire department are just one example of how their generosity blends with that of the typical Atlantic Highlands resident and helped the Fire Auxiliary raise the funds to purchase them.
The Rasts are family folks, so they draw the line in their selection of films shown in their theater. They feature the latest G and PG rated films, as well as R, but they absolutely refuse all X-rated movies. Not in Atlantic Highlands! And they run matines when the kids in any of the local schools have the day off.
But today’s film companies call so many shots that make it difficult to run a theater and make a small profit…that’s what businesses are supposed to do. For instance, there are no films anymore. Everything is digital. So before they could even start up the cinema, the Rasts had to pour over $350,000 into a digital and sound conversion for the entire theater. Some movies cost more than others, some have to be leased for specific time lengths. Some the Rasts can request, and once again, prices vary. And, what was most shocking to me in my tour through the theater and the business heads of Mickey and Fred, the film companies charge per person who sees it! I’m not an electronics geek, so it’s beyond me. But somehow they know! They know when there’re an extra showing, they know everything!
The five theaters here range in size, from the smallest, the one used for a lot of children’s parties, holds 90 movie goers, the largest seats over 250 and the three in the middle hold various groups ranging from 145 to 172.
History lover that I am, I think the history of the building itself..and don’t you love it still really looks like a theater with a magnificent canopy out front and those huge posters on the outside walls capturing your attention?....that absolutely intrigues me. It started out as a garage, a garage owned by John R. Snedeker, once the town’s police chief, later the town’s mayor, always the town’s charmer and doer. There are tons of stories about the garage during Prohibition…surely it had to be a storage place for all those bootleggers who went the three miles offshore…and don’t you wonder what might possibly be under those slanted floors that slope towards the inner sanctum of the building? It’s worth a stop just to ask Fred about that house on the hill with the widow’s peak and the call down to the garage when night boats came ashore. Hmmmm….what was going on and where were the police?
The late Lenny Edwards is another era in this theater, and a gentleman well known and revered by so many in town….notice his framed picture with all the signatures of fans that’s in the main lobby. And Fred even worked for Lenny when he was a teenager, ushering in the theater he’d didn’t know he’d one day own. In the early 1960s, Lenny had two partners in ownership with him, then bought out their shares, and lived in the apartment upstairs.
Now today’s Atlantic Theater was actually two buildings. Fred and Mickey built the one next door with Lenny and it became an Edwards/Rast business in 1998. In the late 1970s, Bobbie Paddock, a long time resident of the boro, made them one building and added two more screens. In the 1990s, Mike Heinline, a local builder and former police officer in Atlantic Highlands, built the link that joined the two buildings into one large cinema with five screens. In 2012, it became the property of the Rasts, lock, stock, barrel and debt.
Oh there’s so much more to tell about this treasure on Atlantic Highlands’ First Avenue, it would take another column. In the meantime, this magnificent cluster of theaters is open seven days a week every week, closing only on Christmas Day. Its movies, advertised in local daily and weekly papers and available on their website, WWW. ATLANTICCINEMAS.COM, start at staggered times so there’s no lines or confusion to deal with; the popcorn, drinks, candy and other edibles are properly fresh, cold or hot as they should be, and thanks to that professional crew that comes in regularly, it’s spotlessly clean. And look for upcoming special events….look at those local businesses advertising on screen, find out when Highlands native and California film director Kevin Smith is slated to be here in October. Take advantage of the cooperative specials First Cup, another great business just up the street has with the theater and ask what other local businesses are negotiating for some other arrangements that give theater goers an extra treat at a special deal.
Mickey and Fred are true to their word..they love the town too much and have been here too long to be anything different. Mickey said it best: “We’ll do anything we can to accommodate people, this is their theater, it’s been here for 75 years. We can do it!”
MURIEL J. SMITH