North Bay’s go-to movie guide retires after nearly 30 years
For nearly 30 years, software engineer and tech consultant Bert Towle has helped North Bay moviegoers plan their trips to the cinema.
His unmatched, meticulous work has now come to an end. Towle retired Jan. 26 and shut down both websites.
The movie guru created the websites after moving to Petaluma in 1993 and realizing he couldn’t turn to the San Francisco Chronicle or The Press Democrat for an inclusive list of movie schedules, he said.
At the time, Towle had been toying with the idea of creating his first website. So when he stumbled across what he believed to be a gap in reporting, he decided to step in and share the schedules himself.
“I only did Sonoma County at first, but I started to get requests from people I knew — and strangers — who lived in Marin County,” he said. So he created NorthBayMovies.com, a sister site to SonomaMovies.com that would cover Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties.
When Towle established the websites in 1994, Google didn’t yet exist. People typically called a phone number to hear a recorded list of showtimes. That took time and was sometimes inaccurate, especially in smaller towns.
Towle created his straightforward, unembellished websites without financial support from advertisers. He did so in hopes of providing some clarity for movie fans like himself who were having trouble finding showtimes at smaller local theaters, like the Monte Rio Theatre and the Sebastiani Theatre in Sonoma.
“Little guys deserve a chance,” Towle said. “They aren’t on big aggregators’ lists.”
For years, Towle listed every showtime for movies playing north of the Golden Gate Bridge, a five-county, 160-mile stretch of California.
“Free to the theaters, free to the customers. No ads, nothing — that’s just my nature,” Towle said.
His websites proved to be useful, as thousands of people ended up using them to plan their outings to the cinema. At their peak in 2017, the websites were clocking in about 100,000 page views per week, Towle said.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, his website traffic dropped to less than 25% of what it had been, as movie attendance dwindled. He later recovered some of that traffic, with an average of 40,000 page views per week.
“I hate to disappoint the little guys, but I’m moving on with my life,” he said of his retirement. “It was past time to retire. I’m looking forward to going on vacation with my wife and not having to update schedules at 3 a.m.”
With his newfound free time, he also plans to get back into playing music.
“I used to play music, but I haven’t spent much time with my 1965 Rickenbacker guitar or keyboard lately,” he said.
What he will miss most about running the websites are conversations with fellow movie fans, he said. Towle loved hearing from users about how his website had helped them.
Kylie Lawrence can be reached at email@example.com.