FAYETTEVILLE: Unique Cameo Theatre is gem of Hay Street - WSMV Channel 4

Unique Cameo Theatre is gem of downtown Fayetteville

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The Cameo Arthouse Theatre is a small movie theater that shows big-budget and independent films on Fayetteville's Hay Street. The Cameo Arthouse Theatre is a small movie theater that shows big-budget and independent films on Fayetteville's Hay Street.

A small movie theater in Fayetteville is bringing people an experience unlike any other they'll find in the Sandhills.

To look at the Cameo Arthouse Theatre now, it's hard to imagine the building was run down and boarded up when the owners bought it in 1996. But now it is a gem of downtown Fayetteville's Hay Street.

"We really wanted to try to be a kingpin in rejuvenating the downtown," said theater owner Chris Kuenzel. "When we got in here it was basically a ghost town."

Chris Kuenzel and his wife, Nasim, were some of the first to invest in a renewal of downtown Fayetteville. That was back in 1996, when they bought the run-down building that previously housed one of Fayetteville's first movie theaters, the New Dixie.

Chris and Nasim saw a blank canvas at the 225 Hay Street location, and hoped that a cinema would bring activity to downtown.

"We knew a cinema would bring a lot of activity downtown to help bring downtown back," Nasim Kuenzel enthused. "We really couldn't resist the notion of combining the urban renewal and the historic preservation."

After 4 years of planning, red tape and renovation, the Cameo opened in 2000.

If nothing else, the layout of the Cameo is unique. A single snack counter that serves beer and wine is on the lower level along with a theater that seats 125 patrons. Upstairs, in what is known as The Loge, there is a second, more intimate theater that sits 38.

"We started with independent films. We've had to branch out to try to cater a little bit more to everybody," Chris Kuenzel explained. "So we try to bring the best of the mainstreams and the best of the independents. ... We're trying to be something everybody in town can appreciate and take advantage of."

But the theater almost went dark at the end of 2012 as all major films would only be available in the digital cinema format starting in 2013.

To keep showing current movies, the Cameo needed to switch from 35mm film and buy two digital projectors at a cost of a $100,000 each. That's when supporters from the community came forward to raise half the money.

"That was a great thing -- how they reached out to the community and the community really supported them. It's just nice to see a small business succeed," said patron Julie Scardiglia, who pointed out that the Cameo brings in a lot of films that bigger theater chains may not play.

While business could always be a little better, with the huge obstacle of purchasing new projectors behind them, the Kuenzels said their bottom line actually isn't their top priority.

"It's never been about making money when we started this business," Nasim Kuenzel said. "We knew from all of our prototype studies that everyone had to work 12 hours a day either here at the theater or at the office -- paying bills or picking films and things like that."

Her husband added, "We're doing this pretty much for the fun of it, for ourselves, and also to hopefully bring something to the community that they appreciate. And fortunately there's been enough of them that do."

Fortunately Chris and Nasim also have full-time architecture work to help them keep things going. But just like many other small businesses, they also get a hand from family.

Their daughter, who lives in Raleigh, pitches in to run the website and their social media so they can focus on contributing to making their community better.

Scardiglia pointed out, "They do a lot of good things in the community -- a lot of educational things."

In addition to regularly screening big-budget and independent films, the Cameo is also available for private film screenings, weddings, fundraisers, birthdays, training seminars, lectures, presentations and corporate retreats.

Copyright 2014 WNCN. All rights reserved.

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Brandon Herring

Brandon is a North Carolina native and UNC alum who lives in Fayetteville, and covers Cumberland County and the Sandhills. Returning to North Carolina to work as a journalist is a dream come true for Brandon. More>>

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