February 7, 2024

Closing of Hopewell Theater Marks the End of an Era

By Anne Levin

Hopewell Theater, a cultural landmark on South Greenwood Avenue in Hopewell Borough for 144 years, has closed its doors. Citing rising costs and the inability to obtain a liquor license, the theater has notified patrons by email and posted the news on its website.

“We are deeply saddened to announce that we must close the Hopewell Theater,” the website reads. “Rising costs and the inability to obtain a liquor license — a key income source for live venues — have contributed to our decision. Thank you to our patrons, talent, staff, and the community of Hopewell for standing with us through the years. None of what we have accomplished would have been possible without you.”

Since taking over the theater nearly a decade ago, Executive Director Sara Scully and her business partner Mitchel Skolnick have offered a carefully crafted, “selectively eclectic” mix of live music, movies, discussions, and dining options. The theater partnered with the Hopewell, Princeton, and Pennington libraries, hosted private events with local nonprofits, and held open mic nights, among other offerings.  An emphasis on local talent was always part of the plan, Scully said in a phone interview this week.

“The different programming streams were popular in different ways, with different kinds of audiences,” she said. “We’d have films and discussions, attracting a different crowd from the ones that came for live music. A lot of emerging talent had an opportunity to perform here, and that fulfilled a goal we had for the theater. We wanted national talent, but local was definitely a focus.”

The history of the site stretches back to 1880, when a building known as Columbia Hall served as a community center, theater, and headquarters of the local fire department. In 1940, that building was demolished, reopening a year later as a movie house called The Colonial Playhouse. George Gallup bought the building in 1960, and it was used for Gallup polling through the mid-1980s, when it became the Off-Broadstreet Theater. The building was taken over and extensively renovated in 2015, and renamed the Hopewell Theater.

Reactions to news of the closing have been “warm and regretful,” said Scully. “This was a really beautiful, special spot while it lasted. Our hope is that the spirit of the theater endures in some fashion, to serve the community as a gathering place in some respect.”

Several comments on the theater’s Facebook page expressed sadness about the news.

“Made many great memories there and found new artists that continue to bring joy to my family,” wrote Joseph Tino. “You’ll be missed but not forgotten.” “So sad to hear this,” wrote Lisa Wright Theodore. “Thank you for your efforts to bring the arts and community to Hopewell.” “So sorry to see the sad news,” wrote John Abbott. “It was a joy to see the many artists perform there, and I’m grateful for the chance to play on that stage. So many hard working and talented people made the HT a landmark we’ll always hold in our hearts.”

While regretful, Scully is proud of what she Skolnick created.

“My business partner and I created a business plan for the theater and started a production company to breathe life into Hopewell Theater,” Scully said. “I think we succeeded in doing that. We created a warm and welcoming venue where people could meet friends and get inspired. I will remember this place filled with people enjoying shows, and staying afterward to talk to friends.”

The future of the site “is not my story,” Scully said. “We don’t know. We don’t own the building. For me, I’m a producer and social entrepreneur, so I will be on to my next project, I’m sure, in time. Right now, it’s time to close this place properly, clear the decks, and move forward.”