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The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

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River Arts cinema reignites passion for moviegoers in Asheville

Evannes Edmonson
Mural outside of Grail Movie House in Asheville, North Carolina.

Grail Moviehouse is a locally owned and operated movie theater located in the lively River Arts District. Having been in operation since 2016, this cinema has seen fluctuation in traffic and popularity, especially since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

“Our name comes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, one of our favorite comedies.  We’ll be showing it in early December for its 48.5 anniversary,” said Steve White, co-owner of Grail Moviehouse.

White co-owns Grail Moviehouse with his partner Davida Horwitz. He spoke about the importance of local cinema and persistence in entrepreneurship in an ever-changing city. 

“We both share most management duties, and are often in the concession stand together, selling tickets etc.,” White said. “I handle most of the projection and technology side of things, and she orders concessions, handles the books and does all of our social media. We also have a longtime manager, Cody Simmons, who has worked with us since right after we first opened.”

The theater is located at Suite 20 of 17 Foundy St. of the River Arts District, and is easy to spot with its vibrant and unique exterior. 

“We were located downtown off of South French Broad until 2020. I had managed theaters throughout NC for years when I was first out of college, but had been doing corporate video work when we had the idea,” White said. “Davida had been teaching for over 20 years, but we both loved movies. We had seen a real increase in the number of independent films being released that were not always making it to our region, and just felt Asheville may be the place that could sustain another theater.”

Though the COVID-19 pandemic left many local business owners unsure of what was to come, Horwitz and White took this time to focus on how to expand their theater and community outreach as restrictions were slowly lifted. 

“When we closed in 2020 during COVID, we were looking for another space that would be compatible to build into a theater, affordable and accessible for our loyal locals. This space was just opening up, and we took it over short term just to see if movies and audiences would return,” White said. “It became clear that the industry was opening back up, so we did construction last year to get back to 3 screening rooms. This spot doesn’t have the amount of seats that we had in our old location, but the location is even better than where we were.”

There are many aspects of Grail Moviehouse that add to its diverse character. White and Horwitz also make an active effort to incorporate products from locally owned businesses into their concessions and theaters. 

“We are totally hands on, know many of our customers by name or face and we love to share movies with them. We know that everyone has different likes and dislikes but most of the people who come to watch here really just love movies and love different types of movies,” White said.
“We keep our beer local and we have a wide variety of candy along with local ice cream sandwiches, locally made Poppy popcorn, Booda kombucha and Infruition (local yerba mate) to name a few.”

In a post-COVID world, alterations to popular attractions can be key to re-attracting customers and sparking additional interest within their regulars. With special and private screenings, in addition to the alternative location and aesthetic, Grail Moviehouse has been able to keep up their status as a popular hangout for Asheville movie-goers.  

“The aesthetic does fit our ‘alternative cinema’ vibe. Parking is still free and available for locals, and we enjoy opening up our garage door and concession stand to people visiting and walking by as well,” White said. “I think we offer a different activity coming to the RAD, and being here gives our customers something to do before or after a movie – visit art galleries, grab a beer at Wedge and burger at Chop Shop or have a nice dinner before your movie at Rosabees.”

White and Horwitz strive to provide an enjoyable environment for all viewing experiences. A passion for film and cinema itself is a huge part of what Grail Moviehouse has become today. 

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