MANTEO, N.C. (WAVY) – It’s a water community and a walkable town with plenty of hidden gems.
Manteo, North Carolina is lined with brick paths and historic buildings, all under the watch of the lighthouse, but one arguably holds more memories than the others – the Pioneer Theater, which has been a staple in Manteo for more than a century.
“It’s just part of the heritage of the community,” said former owner and operator Buddy Creef.
Dating back to 1918, Creef said it’s been in his family for generations, starting with his great grandfather.
“It’s been a part of my life ever since I can remember,” Creef said.
Through equipment failures, fires, high tides, hurricanes, and COVID-19, the show went on.
“As my dad always said, providing the cheapest two-hour babysitter in town, and you know, raising many generations,” Creef said.
However, as the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end,” or in this case, a different direction.
In December 2022 Creef made the decision to officially close due to decreasing attendance and increasing expenses made worse by the pandemic.
“After we closed, several parties reached out to us and, you know, we didn’t know what we wanted to do,” Creef said. “I knew something good would happen with it, I just didn’t know what.”
That “something good” turned into “something better than he could imagine” after an offer he couldn’t refuse from Michael Basnight.
Basnight and his family purchased the Pioneer in partnership with another local family, the Hatchells.
“To me, the Pioneer Theater growing up in Manteo meant so much,” Basnight said. “It’s sort of the fabric of growing up as a kid.”
“One of the rumors was that it was going to get torn down after all these years,” Basnight said, “and that started the conversation, and then we started brainstorming.”
Basnight is in the process of transforming the theater into a mixed use venue, all while still capturing the legacy of putting joy in people’s hearts and smiles on their faces.
“Movies yes, that’s the lifeblood, concerts, we’ve got comedy night we just booked that’s coming up. And I would love to see some things like story tellers,” said Basnight.
He is also using some of these tokens of movie history to create a small museum for visitors to walk through and appreciate where it all began.
Basnight and his team are working hard to get the theater ready for the community, which is scheduled to reopen in May. You can find a link to keep track of the progress by clicking here.
“Somebody said, ‘sum up the Pioneer Theater,'” Creef said. “I said, ‘Peace, love, and popcorn.’ … It will be a special place. Always has been, always will be.”