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Some of the new candy offerings at the concession stand.

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The former theater space that's being turned (back) into retail space for the Tierra products store.

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One of the theaters slated to be merged for a new event space.

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A new digital projector.

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Refurbished theater.

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New seats.

A peek at the reopening Madison Theater

madison theater exterior 2014-01-06

The screens at the Madison Theater in Albany will flick back to life January 17 when the theater opens for the first time after a renovation.

The 85-year-old venue has lived through many different versions in its history. But this next life represents a significant transformation. The Madison is now operated by Tierra Farm, the Columbia County-based organic nuts/coffee/dried fruit company that also runs the coffee shop at the front of the building. Tierra has big plans for the space: upgraded theaters, digital projectors, a retail store for its products, and, eventually, an event space.

We stopped by the theater Monday to get a look at the renovations and hear a little bit more about what's planned for the neighborhood theater.

There are large-format photos above -- click or scroll all the way up.

How a nut/fruit/coffee company ended up running a theater

Tierra -- which owns two coffee shops in Albany, including one by the Spectrum -- might not seem like the first company you'd think of to run a theater. But as we talked with Dan Laiosa, the Tierra partner who will be heading up the operation of the venue, it makes some sense.

Laiosa explained that Tierra was looking to extend its lease for the coffee shop space with the theater company that owned the building -- but the company didn't want to extend because it wanted to sell the building. So the two companies worked out a lease-to-own arrangement.

"We look at it as a way to support the community and build the brand up of our coffee shop in a different way," said Laiosa Monday afternoon. "We look at the building as a real estate investment."

The venue

Tierra, whose other partners are Gunther Fishgold (president) and Darren Grout (CEO), is hoping to make the most out of the space by doing a few different things with it:

Madison Theater Tierra posters

Movies
The new configuration of the Madison includes just two theaters for showing movies. Those theaters are getting upgrades that include digital projectors and new seats.

The plan is to use the theaters to show a range of old movies -- from classics like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to more recent cult classics like The Big Lebowski and Zoolander. Tickets will be $5.

Said Laiosa: "We think it's fun. We're hoping if we build it, they will come. We'll make it a nice theater. We'll show high-quality digital prints. It shouldn't be two hard to get two people to pay $10 for a movie."

And the snack bar will include the sort of items you might expect from an organic foods company: organic candies, natural sodas, organic popcorn and butter, and (of course) Tierra products.

The retail store
The Madison building includes two retail storefronts -- check out this old photo from the 1930s -- but the one opposite the coffee shop had been used as two tiny theaters. Tierra is turning that space back to retail, where it will sell the line of products it roasts at its Columbia County facility.

The projected opening for the retail store is April or May 2014.

The event space
That leaves three more former theaters, which Tierra is planning to combine into an event space that could potentially hold 400-500 people. The idea is that the space will host concerts, talks, and community events. It's farther along on the timeline -- Tierra doesn't expect to have it operational until 2015.

There's been a fair amount friction in Albany over the last few years between entertainment venues, bars, and residential neighborhoods. And the Madison is right in middle of a residential area. But Laiosa said they were hoping to avoid that tension.

"We're definitely trying to be responsible and make this a venue for adults. We're not looking to have a bar that's open until 4 in the morning and people drunk in the street. ... We'll be very respectful."

madison theater tierra refurbished theater space

Will it work this time?

The Madison is a landmark in the Pine Hills neighborhood, and lot of people have memories associated with it. Dan Laiosa is one of them -- he recalled seeing Return of the Jedi there when he was a young kid.

But the theater has struggled to find its footing over the last few decades. And whenever we've walked by in recent years we've kind of had this sinking feeling that the theater would eventually go dark for good -- and even the building might not survive (there was a plan to turn the site into a new drug store about a decade ago).

So it's interesting to see Tierra give this a shot. And unlike previous attempts, maybe the multi-use approach will be enough to keep it afloat.

"We're not completely dependent on the movie theater to be a totally big-time profitable business because we're going to have some other businesses propping it up," said Laiosa. "So we're looking at it as a way to draw people into our coffee shop, or someone buys some nuts at our store and they come in to see a movie. ... It's almost more like a coffee shop with a movie theater than a movie theater in itself."

Opening day for The Madison Theater's next life is January 17 -- it'll be showing four Paul Newman films that night. The theater's schedule is up on its website.

Find It

Madison Theater
1036 Madison Ave
Albany, NY 12208

Comments

If we can't have an Alamo Drafthouse (yet) then I suppose this is almost as good. Video stores and streaming have really killed off second-run movie theaters -- maybe that's just as well, but I always liked going to dollar night at my local theater.

I really hope the new Madison will be a successful - nothing beats a neighborhood movie theater. I love the idea of showing vintage-ish films. I've never seen a theater with such programming, so that kinda concerns me - it's either a great idea or a terrible idea. If that doesn't work out I guess they could fall back on the traditional second run model. The most exciting part of this for me is the performance space. Good concerts in a 400-500 capacity room right in the neighborhood? Oh man that would be awesome...

Love their concept. Paul Newman--how can you go wrong? And the rest of the posted schedule looks great too! A huge asset to the neighborhood!

Pat Travers, Robin Trower, 1979-1980ish.
Who else was there? I'm told I was.

Good hazy memories, and best wishes. We'll try to make it there.

This is fantastic! A great asset to the neighborhood, and a great feeling to know that others care just as much as we do (or more!) and want to invest in the neighborhood. It's truly a pleasure to see all of the changes happening on that little strip of Madison Ave. lately.

They sell beer next door. Will you be able to buy beer there? Please tell me yes.

Fixing the roof would have been the best idea, because the musty smell really bothered my asthma!
Wish them all the best.
Hope they don't try to put ROCK CONCERTS in the back.
Why would anyone pay $5 bucks to see what they could get out of the library FOR FREE?
Heard their coffe is excellent,and they are great folks.
Here's wishing them well !
Though i do wish they could have gotten some Indies like 'My Favorite Theatre', The Spectrum!

It takes me back to 1979 when I was a student at SUNYA..
Old good days and great memories .
I think one of the first movies that I have watched there was the Raiders of the Lost Ark.

"Why would anyone pay $5 bucks to see what they could get out of the library FOR FREE?"

Because laughing together is more fun than laughing alone. It's called being social. Why would anyone drink in a bar when they could stay home and drink for 1/4 the price?

Sounds like a great use of the space, I wish them much success.

Man, that original marquee from the '30s is awesome.

I've been envious of the movie series at Bow Tie in Saratoga and at Proctor's that feature classics and cult movies for cheap. And now here it is! This is within walking distance of my apartment, so I see no reason to see a movie anywhere besides Madison Theatre from now on.
This is great for Albany and it makes me happy to see local businesses interested in re-vitalizing the area and making neighborhoods come together.
Also here's another vote for beer in the theater.

When I saw those posters I got all excited. Is that my 80s Conan? Heck yeah.

"Why would anyone pay $5 bucks to see what they could get out of the library FOR FREE?"

Because not everyone owns a tv or any of that nonsense. Because some of us like going out, into the world, to experience things. Like culture. Also, because SNACKS.

I hope this succeeds! Have they thought about offering dinner at the movies like the place in Glen Falls? Seems like a good match.

"Why would anyone pay $5 bucks to see what they could get out of the library FOR FREE?"

You are NOT a movie fan.

Are there any photos of the old interior? I went on a second date there in the early 1990s and remember a totally different interior before they partitioned the theater into multiple mini theaters.

Holy !@#$% gingins! My fave. Can't wait for this to open!

I would have loved to have had this when I lived right around the corner! I wish these guys all the best!

This is Great News!..

I wish them Major Success.

Glad that they will be playing Cult Movies. Someone in the area needed to start doing this More..

Parking as always been a huge problem along with the mold.

Hope they solve both of these problems and I'm there - alot!

Take your kids to see Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen, it will blow them away! My future bride and I were lucky enough to see it in Brookline, MA on a date, and it was amazing. Nothing beats a big screen experience, especially with those "panavision"/technicolor gems from the '60s & '70s!

This is fun. First movie seen at Madison, go.

Last of the Mohicans, 1992.

Cult movies, art movies, discussion group after. This could be fun.

rob

@mmf Parking is only a problem if you are driving. CDTA, my feet and bike are always options to get to the Madison as it is for many. There are at least three bus routes that travel near by the theater and more on the way.

This is awesome, I can't wait to see some of my favorite older movies and classics I've never seen before on the big screen! Five dollar tickets are a perfect price point, too.

But I'm most looking forward to the event space being completed! With every medium-sized music venue in the area being closed, this is my dream location to see "ROCK CONCERTS" (much to mg's dismay).

Well I must admit I am so glad to this theater up and going again. I noticed that the new owners are really excitied and want to make a go of this. They both have looked into all aspects of what is needed to have sucess and an exact business plan. As a former owner we did great on rentals such an easy way to make money and provide a service to the customer and the folks that want to rent. It looks great inside so much as changed and looks modern with I hope some old mixed in. Mazel tov to the Tierra, the new owners, and you out there the supporters of this business endeavur. Best of luck on the opening. A big part of the business is publicity letting the local news do interviews with the owners, workers and public. Make sure the ads in the paper are correct and updated plus in the techno age if have a web keep it updated. Another big issue is having a manager that knows everything that is going on weather there in the building or out like a vacation or just a day off. Last big issue make sure workers like clean and neat uniforms not needed but clean clothes nothing wacky or to sexy. Enjoy the grand opening.

I made out with Marion Pearson while watching Breakfast Club at the Madison in 1984.

Phenomenally let down with the news of you guys making the conversion from true 35mm film to digital projection. I would never agree with, "why pay $5 to see something you can get out the library for free," but in this case I will because the experience is lost when you know you're just watching something you can literally own and view in the comfort of your own home.

I really expected and hoped for a revivalist FILM theater. Very much disappointment.

First went to the Madison Theater in the early 1950s and spent many a weekend (both Sat AND Sun) there. Wonderful memories. As a current neighbor, I am thrilled that you are opening and look forward to going often. Can't beat the price. Much success.

I grew up around the corner, "Rocky" was playing there when I was born. I saw "Fletch" and many other great movies there when they first came out. I will venture back home to catch some flicks there now.

Love this, and I've enjoyed Tierra Farm products since all the way back when they were in Cohoes.

One thing though: Parking! Madison Theater has always had a problem with parking due to its location. Either the Price Chopper next door needs to give up some of its rows or something else on that block needs to be leveled. Frankly with the amount of extra space they're not using for the theater, I'm surprised they didn't tear down the coffee storefront to add some off-street parking.

In regards to parking, I've been quite a few times to see movies at the Madison since they've opened and have never had an issue finding street parking nearby.

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