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Benefit gala kicks off Kingston Firehouse opening

By KENDALL HANSON

Staff Writer

"Look around," said Kingston Rotary member Steven Barrett as he lifted his arm and swept it in an arc to encompass a noisy room of excited people decked out in their finest regalia. "I'll bet there has never been such a moment in the history of this little town of Kingston."

Barrett was at the new Kingston Firehouse to serve as Master of Ceremonies for its innaugural gala to celebrate the opening of two new businesses and to raise funds for a local cause.

He was probably right about the history. For one thing, Kingston has never had a movie theater before. Craig Smith, the new owner of the Firehouse Theater, would know that for certain -- he grew up in Indianola.

"This has always been my dream," he later told the first audience for his theater as they waited for the first official showing of any film on the big screen. "It's just an overwhelming to be able to share it with all of you."

More than 190 people were sharing that dream on May 14. Kingston Firehouse owners Dave and James Wetter, and Rick Lanning, designed the occasion to resemble the opening of a major movie in Hollywood. Within hours of announcing the event, Dave Wetter said, tickets at $50 each were sold out.

Guests received the VIP treatment. First they were transported to the Kingston Firehouse opening in a limousine. As they got out of the limo, they were greeted by a red carpet and flash-popping paparazzi -- local high school kids hired for the occasion. Guests were then photographed to commemorate the event. The Kingston gliteratti then had a chance to taste wine, sample hors d'oevres and mingle in the space that is now home to the Kingston Firehouse's other tenant, the Oak Table Cafe.

The choice of tenant businesses in the remodeled fire station, once was the central station for North Kitsap Fire and Rescue, was no accident, according to Dave Wetter. “I had wondered what the common spark was for small towns that were succeeding,” he told the audience before the evening screening. “My wife and I took an extended trip and discovered that one element was common in small towns that were thriving: all of them had retained their movie theater. So when I heard that Craig Smith wanted to build a theater some day, the rest just fell into place. The other thing we knew from research was that Kingston was 'hungry' for a breakfast place since the Kingston Inn had burned down. After having breakfast at the Oak Table Restaurant in Sequim, I knew these were the right people to have a place here.”

"To me, this is the best time in the history of Kingston to be the president of the Chamber of Commerce," Pete DeBoer told the gala's audience before the screening of the theater's first official film. "There are so many exciting things going on in Kingston that I could talk about it all night. We're sitting in the newest and one of the greatest in town right now."

For Oak Table owners Ross and Nikki McCurdy, the choice of Kingston has an importance beyond the opening of the restaurant. The McCurdys had been scouting for a site, Ross told the audience, “We needed a place that felt like home. We just fell in love with Kingston. We said, 'Wow, just look at this place. Who cares about just a successful restaurant? This is where we want to raise a family.”

Master of ceremonies Barrett asked for "anyone who has ever served as a firefighter either professionally or as a volunteer to stand." At least 50 members of the gathering stood, a testimony to the volunteer spirit of the town.

After the film screening, guests once again gathered in the Oak Table's space to taste desserts prepared by Little City Catering and have coffee. The main topic of conversation was on the impact this kind of facility will have on Kingston.

“It certainly is the beginning of a new chapter in Kingston,” said local attorney Gerry Kearney. “It marks us as a destination, and certainly the theater will draw people from Poulsbo and Edmonds and other places outside of our immediate area.”

“When Dave and I sat down and began to plan this facility, that was certainly part of our vision for it,” said Rick Lanning, co-owner of the building. “We think that the Oak Table Cafe with its gourmet breakfast will also become a destination for people, but more than that it will serve as an anchor, I think, for people to get together in twos and threes and do a little dreaming and planning. And certainly it is set up to be capable of hosting larger meetings too, so that's all part of the mix.”

Lanning and the Wetters take their civic responsibility seriously. The proceeds of the night's events are being donated to support the installation of lights at the Kingston High School athletic fields. "When we put this together," Barrett said, "we realized that this was going to be the social event of the century. I'd like to know when in history you've ever had such a quantity of black ties in Kingston."

Dave Wetter had a chance to address the gala audience before the film presentation. He mentioned that people had been asking why he was wearing a Kingston hat when he had on a tuxedo. "It's more than a hat," he told the audience, "it's a symbol of what's often on my mind: Kingston."

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