Chaplin's, a bustling listening room in Spring City, draws the spotlight
by Walter Ault

Like many mature Pennsylvania towns, Spring City in Chester County is incredibly quiet and still at night, even kind of gloomy. Along Main Street, some of the storefronts are vacant, and there is hardly any sound, with few pedestrians and virtually no traffic. But there is always movement, always life, at two iconic establishments: the Spring City Hotel; and, a few doors away, Chaplin’s.

Both of these legendary businesses stand as vital parts of the community, though they have had divergent paths to get to where they are today. The hotel has been a steady presence since 1892, whereas the building now known as Chaplin’s (chaplinslive.com), has had many owners since it was established in 1908; it has served as everything from a vaudeville house and silent-movie theater to a motorcycle shop to a photography studio. Today, it’s a cozy 140-seat, BYOB listening room and recording studio.

Much of the credit for the venue’s reinvention goes to Chris Cachuela, a young and energetic Douglassville resident who helped shape Chaplin’s into an entertainment hot spot, especially for the younger crowd. Evoking entertainer George Jessel’s words— “Give the people what they want”—Cachuela has helped Chaplin’s change with the times.

Chaplin’s is normally open on weekends only. To keep the coffers full, Cachuela came up with a plan to maximize the business’ existing assets and also diversify into new areas. Now, just five years after coming to Chaplin’s as a soundman for once-weekly talent night, Cachuela has become general manager and part owner—and Chaplin’s is buzzing.

How? Instead of only providing live music on weekends, Cachuela also decided to try his hand at recording music.

“I decided to use our strengths,” Cachuela explains. “We had a huge pool of capable artists, a competent staff and great acoustics. It was just a matter of spending some money wisely and putting it all together.”

Cachuela also capitalized on the fact that nearly all Chaplin’s performing artists are young and from the surrounding areas of Chester and Montgomery counties.

“Because we support a lot of young locals, we felt they would see Chaplin’s as a convenient opportunity to record music,” he says. “In reality, there was no other local recording venue for these young and inexperienced musicians to use.”

It was a gamble for sure, but one that appears to have paid off.

“We went out and got all the things we needed,” says Cachuela. “We got an isolation booth, mikes, cables, computers and monitors—a full recording studio setup.” 

One of Cachuela’s cleverest moves was to record the live performances of the weekend bands, giving local musicians even more incentive to become regulars. Cachuela has even had a hand in launching a couple of budding music careers.

So far, Cachuela is quite happy with the results of the changes he has brought to Chaplin’s. He’s not the only one.

“Chris has done a remarkable job,” says Roy Cannon, one of the co-owners who bought Chaplin’s in 2007. “Bob [Cooney] and I bought Chaplin’s because of our love of the music, but we knew nothing about running this kind of business. We would have been lost without Chris’ help.

“Chris is a real determined, energetic and focused individual who is incredibly mature and confident for such a young age,” he continues. “He knows what he wants and puts it into action, with amazingly positive results.”

Area music fans, as well as Spring City residents, are happy to see Chaplin’s thriving, due to the promise of an exciting future for the local music scene, as well as its efforts to revitalize Main Street. Likewise, Chaplin’s stands as an endearing—and enduring—icon of Spring City’s glorious past.

In the early 1900s, Chaplin’s was known as the Gem Theater, a well-known stop on the East Coast vaudeville circuit. The venue offered a wide range of entertainers, including legendary comedian Buster Keaton, as well as silent films featuring stars such as the inimitable Charlie Chaplin.

“The Gem Theater had just about every kind of act imaginable,” says William C. Brunner, president of the Spring-Ford Area Historical Society, which is based in Royersford. He adds that the Gem had to offer good entertainment just to survive because it competed with the likes of the Spring City Opera House, the Penn Theatre in bordering Royersford and The Colonial in nearby Phoenixville.

The vaudeville acts and silent movies continued at the Gem through the 1920s. In 2007, after many years of serving the community in a variety of ways, the building became known by its present identity, Chaplin’s.

The trend of “going with the flow” that has enabled this small theater to endure in one form or another continues unabated at Chaplin’s. Along with the technical upgrades and new services offered, there has been another remarkable change here. For a long time, the cozy listening room was known purely for folk or folk/rock music. This is no longer the case.

“Now we’ll have any kind of music on any given night,” Cachuela explains. “Musical tastes change, and we realized we had to change as well. We have rock ‘n’ roll, country, heavy metal, even hip hop. We just try to keep going, keep people interested and keep people coming.”