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Plaza Cinemas owners still plan to open

Digital conversion plans affecting movie house and Midway Drive-In

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(SVM file photo)
After damages sustained during storms in June 2010, Dixon’s Plaza Cinemas closed, with plans to reopen after repairs were completed. Plaza Cinemas owners still plan to reopen the movie house, closed for 3 years, and show first-run movies.

DIXON – Plaza Cinemas owners still plan to reopen the movie house, closed now for 3 years, and show first-run movies.

Just don’t expect anything in the next couple of weeks, or even months, owner Melody McGrath of Charleston said Tuesday.

“Eventually it will, but it won’t happen very quickly,” McGrath said.

McGrath and her husband, Larry, own the theater at 1315 N. Galena Ave., closed since a summer rainstorm caused the roof to collapse in June 2010, about 7 months after they bought it.

They replaced the roof, but that put them behind in their plans to convert to digital projection, she said.

For the last century, theaters have shown 35 mm film. Now the industry is switching to digital production for first-run releases, and so independently owned movie theaters and drive-ins must buy a digital projector – to the tune of $125,000 or more.

“I had the theater [in Dixon] fitted for what it would take to put digital in it,” McGrath said. “I have to be able to be there for a few days, meet with civil engineers, contractors, to take bids on getting things done. I just haven’t yet. Last year, my husband had two major surgeries. Things haven’t been falling in line.”

They also plan to redo seating and some of the doors. They continue to clean and maintain the building.

The McGraths own a small theater chain, Earlann Inc., with theaters in Olney, Macomb and St. Louis, Mo., and a drive-in in Newton. They also own and operate Coles County Sanitation and Recycling in Charleston.

Speaking of digital conversions, Midway Drive-In and Diner owners still hope to convert their historic, 63-year-old theater between Sterling and Dixon.

A fundraising campaign last fall to help pay for the switch fell short of its $40,000 goal, raising only $7,536.

But owners Mike and Mia Kerz still are collecting donations at the drive-in. They, too, need $125,000; they still hope to raise $40,000 and get loans for the rest of the work.

“It’s going pretty well,” Mia Kerz said Tuesday. “There’s more to go and it is difficult right now, but we’re getting there. I’m confident, but cautious.

“The key thing to remember, money in concessions is what keeps us going. It costs a lot to put first-run movies on screen. That money mostly goes to the movie studios. Concessions is where we make money for the drive-in.”

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