Thursday, January 14, 2010

Grandin Boycott Being Organized Over Jason Garnett's Firing

I got this shot at the Grandin Road Christmas parade a couple of years ago. The title is, "Can I call you back?" That's a cell phone in the guy's hand.

There seems to be a tornado of protest brewing over the apparent firing of General Manager Jason Garnett by the Grandin Theatre in Roanoke. I have e-mailed Grandin Executive Director Kathy Chittum to get a confirmation on the firing, and she wrote back, "This is a personnel matter and I have no comment to make." Jason has not answered a photo call asking him what happened.

The 'Net, however, is alive with chatter about a boycott being arranged by Beth Deel, co-owner of MyScoper and UpupPeriscope in Roanoke and Beth Jones, a former Roanoke Times arts reporter and long-time Grandin supporter.

There is a 5 p.m. meeting of the board today and the firing is almost certain to come up. One insider, who asked not to be identified, said, the Grandin has "several new members and a new preesident, none of [whom] knows the history, the mission, the vision" of the Grandin or "the backstory of what has gone on there. A board member e-mailed me that "I agree with you! Jason is the real heart of theatre, and we don't want to, and can't afford to, lose him."

Many, including former owner Julie Hunsaker, are coming to Jason's defense and castigating the Grandin's management. Here's what Keri Sink-Tyler says, in reply to Beth Deel's announcement of the boycott on her Facebook page, "As a former employee and friend of Jason, I do know the whole story. Jason is passionate about film, and about the Grandin. He only wants what's best for the Grandin-and to make it a creative resource for the community that everyone can participate in [Jason is] the face of that place. He has put so much of himself into the Grandin, worked 60 hours a week making sure that everything ran smoothly, and trying to come up with ideas-only to have them constantly shot down."

Keri insists that Jason has been the victim of a campaign meant to get rid of him and writes that management has been involved in "shady things" and "is going to run that place into the ground." Management is "uncreative, awful to employees ... and awful with customers," according to the post.

Cory Dorathy writes, "Passion for people aside, the Grandin is a vital part of this community and if we turn our backs on it as an entity, then we turn our backs on the progress of this community."

Jason is not universally supported. Marcus Hodges writes, "I was boycotting the Grandin because of Jason's shitty treatment of other employees."

Julie Hunsaker, who owned the Grandin (1985-2002) before it was bought by the Grandin Theatre Foundation, wrote: "I always felt that Jason was the torch bearer for my original, beautiful and idealistic vision and mission for the Grandin. I am in mourning. I am weeping."

There's a lot more commentary on that page and, I suspect, a lot more to come. I don't know how much Kathy Chittum can say about the situation, but the longer she remains quiet, the more difficult this could become for her and the Grandin Board (of which I was once a member). This could be dangerous for Roanoke's alternative theater, which does not operate with generous margins, to begin with. My guess is that Jason has had a great deal to do with any success the Grandin has had over the years, something he's rarely been credited with, except among insiders who know his value. Frankly, I'm not sure the Grandin can afford to be without him. He's the very soul of the organization.


  1. What in the world???? Jason's one of the reasons the Grandin is the only theater Phil and I ever go to in Roanoke, except on very occasional occasions. I do not understand what prompted this decision, but he's dedicated, knowledgeable and a big part of why the Grandin has been the success it is.

  2. Well, then I guess I won't get to see any more indy movies if I boycott over this. Where in the world else will I go to support independent film in Roanoke? That's great that you're standing up for your friend and all, but in the bigger scheme, do you really want to boycott and harm the only alternative to $10 popcorn corporate theaters who have NO stake in the community? I'm new to the area, so maybe I don't get it, but honestly, keeping this portion of the arts alive in a place with no other indy film options strikes a major chord with me.

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  4. Photo call - cool. I love technology.

  5. Does anyone boycotting know the grounds for dismissal? What if he was stealing from the kitty, or chronically late for shifts. Maybe it wasn't warranted. My point is, if you don't know for sure and don't have both sides of the story, being a part of this without knowledge of the actuality makes you either a)jumping the gun or b)a lemming for following suit because the art kids got together and you want to be associated with art kids. I'm just saying, he could have been killing panda bears in the theater and deserved it. If you claim to know for sure what it was about please do tell. but i hope you have both sides.

  6. Amen pampadori. Frankly it is a personnel issue that is the business of absolutely no one except the parties immediately involved - Jason, Chittum and the board of directors. Almost EVERYTHING I have heard and read so far has led me to no conclusion except for the obvious bias these people share (including Dan Smith himself).

  7. pampadori & adam,

    as a former employee of the grandin I can tell you that there is absolutely NO chance of Jason having been stealing, chronically late, etc. The reason Kathy had it out for him was because she knows that he was the one running the theatre--not her. She was terrified of him having any contact with the board, lest this truth come out (truth such as during the holidays--a very busy season for movie theaters--she took a three-week-long vacation; she routinely picks unsuccessful films to show, etc). She restricted his communication with the board--which is pretty shady if you ask me--and consistently picked fights with him over decisions he made that were fruitful for the grandin but undermined her poor leadership.

  8. I am also a former employee of the Grandin Theatre and have known Jason for quite a few years. His presence has played and always will play a vital role in that theatre. He has influenced people a lot more then he knows and has a talented and creative mind that has led to many successful endeavors of The Grandin. He was unfairly fired, and I have no doubt that there were ulterior motives in play from both Kathy Chittum and the board. Jason has put his heart toward it's mission, which is much more then Mrs. Chittum can ever say about herself.

    I think the bigger question is why should we boycott The Grandin? So many people have put a lot of hard work to see the theatre flourish and it would be a shame for it fall to pieces. We should be supporting Jason in his future endeavors. He was meant for bigger things then to be the manager at The Grandin forever. I have heard many great ideas come out of his mouth, and I think he should move onto the next step in his life. He has done many wonderful things for Roanoke and I think it is time to let him move onto to other areas where his creativity can blossom just as much.

    Why let everything Jason has done be for naught? Support The Grandin Theatre. Support Jason Garnett. The people who have done wrong know who they are and should feel shamed. Thank you Jason for everything you have done.

  9. .. it is - what? Dec. 4th? - and i am just now hearing about this controversy at the Grandin (thanks to your reporting). i'm still rather confused by it all, but if Julie Hunsaker is in Mr Garnett's corner, that's good enough for me. in a later post, you mention a piece (described as "late") by Roanoke Times reporter Mike Allen. i can assure you - and you've probably guessed as much - that Allen (and the rest of the staff) are expected to work within certain .. parameters (the spectre of "politics" trumping th' reader's right to know and, sure, the journalist's right to Write).

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