Vintage popcorn machine brought back to downtown Albemarle

A key piece of Albemarle’s downtown cultural history has been given new life as a vintage popcorn machine, which used to be a fixture in the old Center Theater on West Main Street, was recently purchased by the Albemarle Downtown Development Corporation.

John Williams, former North Stanly High arts teacher and the ADDC’s design chairman who helped spearhead the efforts to bring the machine back, made his first batch of popcorn recently.

“It tastes great and it works,” he said. “It was really kind of cool.”

The popcorn machine is  housed at Market Station in downtown Albemarle. Photo courtesy of John Williams.

The bright red popcorn popper, currently residing inside Market Station, was a downtown staple for movie enthusiasts throughout the county before eventually winding up in South Carolina, where it had been for many years. It was spotted for sale a few months ago in the Facebook Marketplace.

Willie Barringer received the machine as a gift from former Mayor Roger Snyder, who purchased and restored it for his restaurant, The Boardroom Bar and Bistro, in the space that is now Tiffany’s At The Boardroom. The popcorn machine was restored shortly before the business opened in 1999. The machine was passed down to Barringer’s son Rodney, who, with the help of his daughter Lisa Williams, decided to sell the machine.

A GoFundMe page, along with private donations, helped ADDC purchase and transport the machine from Kershaw, South Carolina back to the city shortly after Christmas. The plan is for the machine to be featured during downtown Albemarle events to help raise money for the ADDC.

“When I read the Facebook marketplace ad detailing the history of the popcorn machine, I felt in my heart that we needed to bring it back home,” said ADDC director Joy Almond. “As the ADDC Design Chair, John Williams is endearingly passionate about local historic preservation. I knew he would share my sentiment and help me in my quest.”

Williams, who enjoyed watching films such as “Bambi,” “Smokey and the Bandit” and “Coal Miner’s Daughter” as a kid at the Center Theater, would like to bring that same experience back to the current generation of movie-goers by restoring old movie theaters, such as the Alameda Theater.

“Having the popcorn machine back brings a little bit of the Center Theater back to life,” he said. “I hope the machine is just the first step in getting one or both of our theaters restored or repurposed.”

“It would be great to have a neon marquee back,” he added.