A harsh reminder
Our area lost two longtime businesses during the past several weeks, departures that point once again to changes we have been experiencing for decades.
News last week that the AMC Classic Cinema Six at the Fort Steuben Mall would not be among the locations the theater giant planned to reopen came about a week after the closing of the Kroger supermarket in downtown Weirton. Both leave area communities and their leaders wondering just what might be coming next.
Residents from across the region have had the chance to see movies at the mall since it opened in the mid-1970s. The theater complex at the time featured three screens, which not only provided more choices when it came time to see a movie, but offered the opportunity for the theater operator to obtain and show a greater selection of newer films.
A remodeling and expansion to six screens more than a decade ago gave residents an even greater selection and made it possible for movie-lovers to enjoy a matinee or a night out close to home.
Sadly, changes the industry was forced to make as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic — limiting crowd sizes, for instance — as well as a move toward streaming and other direct-to-consumer distribution methods, have led to the closings of theaters in smaller communities around the country.
Weirton, meanwhile, suffered a big loss on Aug. 21 when the Kroger store on Main Street closed its doors for the final time, a victim, the company explained, of sagging sales. The loss of the grocery store, which had served the area since 1955, means residents in that part of town are now left without a supermarket. And while that’s an inconvenience to those who have cars, it represents a true hardship for many residents in that area who lack access to transportation.
Weirton Transit offers its route services to help people who find themselves in that predicament, but some residents, especially the elderly, are likely to avoid public transportation out of fears brought on by the coronavirus.
The loss of a longtime downtown grocery store and difficulty in finding a replacement is something we have seen before. In Steubenville, for instance, the portion of the building that housed a Sav-A-Lot store at the corner of Seventh and North streets (which had been home to a Kroger store for decades) remained empty for many years after that store closed.
That loss left residents of the area who lacked transportation without access to fresh vegetables and meats, things shoppers who can easily get to a supermarket can sometimes take for granted. The new owner of the complex, Urban Mission Ministries, has included a grocery store in its plans for the facility, a move that would go a long way toward eliminating the food desert that exists in downtown.
Both recent closures — the theater and the grocery store — offer sad reminders of our changing demographics and that a business base built to serve an area that at one time boasted a much larger population can no longer be sustained.
Those who enjoy the experience of watching a movie in a theater now will have to drive a little farther — depending on where you live, that’s to Robinson Township, the Highlands or St. Clairsville — and those who live in the downtown or Marland Heights areas of Weirton will now have to travel a little farther or find a different way to obtain their groceries.
Let’s hope that management at the mall can convince AMC to return or find another theater company that is willing to take a chance on Steubenville — and that community leaders and public officials in Weirton can take steps toward finding a grocer who is willing to serve the city.