Chapel Hill’s Chelsea Theater might close if a new owner isn’t found

The Chelsea Theater is putting itself up for sale at the end of the year.
The Chelsea Theater is putting itself up for sale at the end of the year.

The Chelsea Theater, a longtime destination for lovers of independent films in north Chapel Hill, is looking for a new owner to keep its doors open.

The movie theater’s five-year lease is ending at the end of the year, and the current owner, Bruce Stone, is heavily considering retirement, according to a release on the theater’s website.

“Now in the last year of our current five-year lease, with only a handful of months to go, we must make some serious choices about the future of the Chelsea Theater,” the release said. “Given the advancing years of the current owner it might be difficult committing to another five year lease. And yet there may be some interest in continuing the legacy of the Chelsea.”

Portrait of Chelsea Theater owner Bruce Stone in his theater's projection room, August 23, 2013. HARRY LYNCH

The theater is asking interested parties to reach out to the theater via email. Efforts to reach Stone for this story were unsuccessful.

Stone, who is in his 70s, opened the theater in 1990 off Weaver Dairy Road in the Timberlyne shopping center. He previously owned the Varsity Theater in Chapel Hill on Franklin Street as well, before selling it in 2009.

In 2013, he invested heavily in modernizing the theater’s projection equipment, replacing old 35 mm projectors with digital projection systems. At that time, Stone said that the expense of the projectors almost put the theater out of business, saying he had put half of his retirement fund into the upgrades.

Stone has also considered selling the Chelsea before.

“There were rumors back when I sold the Varsity that I was going to sell the Chelsea, too,” he told The News & Observer in 2013. “For a brief while I’d offered them both for sale, but it wasn’t really a serious offer. At least, no one took it seriously. But people heard the rumor, and they’d come in and say, “Don’t leave. Don’t go.’

“I said, ‘Rest easy, I’m not going to go. Probably.’”

Evidently, Stone is reconsidering that stance.

The Chelsea has three screens. The acclaimed film “Lady Bird” directed by Greta Gerwig opens Friday.

Zachery Eanes: 919-419-6684, @zeanes

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