Mike Makes Movies

boy looking at the candy counter in a movie theater

Mike Carunchia grew up outside. Well, he grew up at the drive-ins. 

“Drive-ins were way, way, way better at that time! Going back to the 60s and the 70s, yeah, the drive-ins were still doing really well,” Mike said.

Mike is the owner of Tygart Valley Cinemas. Before that, his parents owned Tygart Valley, the Starlight Drive-in, the Twilight Drive-in and the theater that used to be in downtown Fairmont. 

“I was completely around [the theaters] my whole life. Always worked there in the summers, but when I graduated, I just went into it full time,” he explained. “You know, I thought it was normal when I was a kid because my parents did that. I thought it was normal to … be at the theater all the time.”

woman and child standing at a ticket counter at a movie theater

Owning your own business

He decided to carry on the business because he didn’t really want to go to college. Looking back now, Mike said he really wouldn’t advise that decision because it’s 24/7.

“When you own your own business, it’s not like a job. It’s more like a lifestyle… You have to live it to make it work.”

Tygart Valley Cinemas has eight screens and he’s strongly considering adding two more, but what he has always preferred are obviously drive-ins! Having grown up in them, he can say with years of experience that there’s more freedom and more socializing at the drive-in.

“Well, I’ll be honest with you. I’m kind of right now thinking about opening a drive-in. I’m just looking for a location. But we’ve been talking about it for a while.”

Maybe he’ll call it Starlight or Twilight or something reminiscent of his childhood drive-ins. Maybe he’ll keep it open year-round like drive-ins used to be. (Yes, even drive-ins in West Virginia!) Drive-ins across the country and here in West Virginia started to go away in the late ’80s, which is around the time his parents built Tygart Valley. And once it was built, he took it over. 

Since then, he’s tried to keep movies available to everyone. He’s tried to predict the gimmicks of the industry and their lifespans, like 3D. It was big for a while and now it’s almost non-existent. (He did say there might be a resurgence of 3D when the new Avatar film comes out next year.) Now, he added, the big trend is reclining seats, which decreases a theater’s capacity by half and increases ticket prices. Increasing his ticket prices is what he tries to avoid more than anything. 

“I keep my prices as low as possible…. I give people an affordable opportunity to come to the movies.”

And indeed he does. He’s there every day of the year except Christmas Eve … because the theater is, for that one day a year, closed. 

He gets there in the morning and works until 2 p.m. He spends some time at home or goes to get food before he comes back in the evenings. Sometimes he’ll go to Dutchman’s Daughter, Muriale’s or Colasessano’s (the one at White Hall, you know, the one with gelato). He always eats Italian food. On weeknights, he leaves at 10 p.m., but later than that on weekends. 

Aside from the theater, he used to sponsor and play in a traveling softball league for about 36 years, playing over 100 games a year in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, New Jersey and all the surrounding states. This year, his first year off, he discovered the show Homeland, but other than that… 

girl scooping out popcorn at a movie theater

What the movie man watches

“I don’t really watch a lot of movies anymore because, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think they make a lot of good movies anymore. Everything is [computer-generated animation] now, and that’s more geared for young kids … ,” he said. “If you’ve been in the business as long as I have what you realize is that that movie has been done before. It’s just been changed a little bit, but the story’s the same. It’s the same thing.”

What he has watched, however, is some of the Marvel movies, but he avoids any horror films.

“Not really action because action is out of control now. It’s almost like every movie is a superhero movie,” he said, adding that he really prefers drama. 

The movies he’s really enjoyed in the last few years are Little Women, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and The Joker.

“That movie is deep. That movie was not a superhero movie. It was not like you think… It’s a hardcore, dark drama.”

When he was a kid growing up in the theaters and drive-ins, he was obsessed with the James Bond movies. 

“And I probably shouldn’t have even been watching them!” he said, adding that movies back then weren’t rated.  

And what are his snacks of choice? A bottle of water. He also said maybe some candy. He’s been around movie theater popcorn, so it’s no real wonder he’s cloyed of it now. 

Although he’s picky in his tastes in both movies and snacks, he doesn’t consider himself to have higher standards. He doesn’t consider himself an aficionado who knows better. 

“It’s just a difference in generations,” he said before his rang. He pulled out a flip phone and silenced it. 

What’s your favorite movie snack? 


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