The Star Theatre in Berkeley Springs is an institution. For 40 years, Jeanne Mozier and Jack Soronen opened the theater every weekend to show movies. But the Star, as Mozier calls it, is more than a movie theater. It’s a place for community.
“It’s been a premier centerpiece for Berkeley Springs,” Mozier said. “When the marquee is on, it lights up the town and raises the energy.”
The Star’s flashy marquee is one of the most photographed spots in town, attracting locals and tourists who shop and dine in the historic town. By bringing people downtown, the Star has helped revitalize the economy in Berkeley Springs.
“When we first opened, you couldn’t go anywhere downtown because everything closed at 7 p.m. The Star has been part of a bigger renaissance in Berkeley Springs. We helped bring back restaurants and shops and the town is thriving,” Mozier said.
But after several decades of keeping the lights on, Mozier and Soronen realized that it was time to retire and find new owners to carry on the Star’s legacy.
The torch is passed, but the light never goes out
You’ve seen the motif play out time and time again on the silver screen: the torch is passed and a new generation rises up. In April 2019, Mozier and Soronen went through the bittersweet process of handing off their business to new owners, Sean and Jackie Forney.
“When it came time to pass on this legend, it became very important to us that we sell to someone who would continue operating the Star as a neighborhood mom and pop,” Mozier said. “We believe that dynamic is essential to keep it thriving as a tourist attraction.”
The Star originally opened in the late 1920s but became a community hub when Mozier and Soronen bought it in 1977. Many of the original features remain, adding to its charm. While the Star doesn’t have the largest screen and movies are shown several weeks after they’re released nationwide, the “mom and pop” feel has been the main draw over the years.
“Tourists love it,” Mozier said. “They’ve come from the city and are astounded by our prices and that people stand in line and talk to each other. When you come to the Star, it’s like coming and being part of a family.”
Sean Forney said he’s excited to continue that tradition with his own family.
“We grew up a few miles away and couldn’t pass up the opportunity when we found out the Star was for sale,” he said. “The Star will continue to be a true-to-the-core family-owned and operated business. My wife Jackie is running the day-to-day operations of the theater and our kids are there with us every weekend taking tickets. It really is a complete family operation.”
As with any transition, there’s uncertainty and the Forneys initially weren’t sure they would be able to turn a profit.
WV SBDC helps guide Star ownership transfer
When the Forneys knew they would be purchasing the Star, they contacted the West Virginia Small Business Development Center for assistance. They were paired with business coach, Marry Hott, who helped the Forneys understand the historic significance of the Star and the unique market opportunities of an old theater.
“We used the market analysis WV SBDC put together and worked on financial projections that could give Sean a better understanding of what will be required to make the business work well financially,” Hott said. “I then assisted in taking the marketing plan and financial projections and building a business plan that Sean used to discuss with lenders for the required loan.”
Even though he was an experienced business owner, Forney said the WV SBDC provided a steadying hand during the transition process.
“I have other businesses, but didn’t know what to do with a historic theater,” he said. “I’ve always done things myself, but Mary brought a whole new perspective on what owning the Star would take. She alleviated a lot of stress and helped keep everything on track. I absolutely recommend working with the SBDC if you’re a small business owner.”
Honoring the Star Theatre’s legacy
While the Forneys will continue showing movies at the Star, they want to expand the venue to be a place for live performances.
“It has great acoustics and has been used for music in the past,” Forney said. “So, we’re getting the word out and hope to be using the space more than three days a week by offering music, comedy shows and other live events.”
Forney said expanding the business will require some remodeling, but that upgrades would not detract from the Star’s historical value. And guests can be assured that the Star will be open each weekend for an 8 p.m. showing of the latest movie, with fresh popcorn waiting to be served from its popular Manley popcorn machine.
“We want to make sure the Star remains the tourist attraction it’s known for,” Forney said. “We recognize that our theater is part of moving Berkeley Springs forward. We want to make sure we are providing jobs in our community and helping spur economic growth in our downtown.”
The West Virginia Small Business Development Center supports small businesses through one-on-one coaching, training and facilitating connections to resources. Learn more about how a business coach can help your business by visiting wvsbdc.com. To learn more about the Star Theatre, visit startheatrewv.com.