'$5,000 probably isn't enough': To keep movies playing, Chillicothe venue seeks help

Phil Luciano
Journal Star

CHILLICOTHE — If the show must go on at the historic Chillicothe Town Theatre, donors need to step up.

That’s the plea of the board that runs the movie house, profits of which fund local youth programs with five-figure donations most years. But COVID-19 has not only eliminated profits but hobbled the theater’s ability to keep its doors open, said Chad Timmerman, president of the Chillicothe Town Theatre Board.

This week, he set up a GoFundMe page to keep the place afloat by raising $5,000.

“The $5,000 probably isn’t enough,” he said. “But I didn’t want to be overzealous.”

Built in 1927, the two-screen theater was bought in 2009 by the Chillicothe Optimist Club for $200,000. The for-profit theater, run by the board, donates all proceeds to area youth groups — $116,000 total between 2009 and 2019, Timmerman said.

The 55 groups have included Mossville Cub Scout Pack 50, Illinois Valley Central High School Special Olympics and the Sparland First Baptist Church youth program.

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But the pandemic shut the cinema most of last year, leaving no profits. It reopened in February, thanks to a $10,000 Business Interruption Grant from the state. To reduce costs, the theater went from a six-days-a-week movie schedule to Friday-through-Sunday screenings.

Attendance has swooned, from 1,200 to 1,500 a week before the pandemic to no more than 400 in any week this year, Timmerman said. Last weekend, just 69 people bought tickets, which are only $5.

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Pandemic safety fears continue to hurt ticket sales, Timmerman said. But another big problem stems from Hollywood, which has been debuting many new releases on streaming platforms, he said. Plus, there have been few blockbuster movies lately, he said.

“Our attendance has not gotten to where it needs to be,” he said.

However, he sees hope on the horizon. 

To keep things going through the rest of the year, the Optimist Club donated $5,000. Though January and February are typically the lowest-attendance months of the year, by March Timmerman believes pandemic fears should ebb and allow film buffs to return. Further, Hollywood already has been moving first-run flicks away from streaming services and directly into theaters, a trend that should increase into spring, he said.

To stay open until then, he said, the theater needs at least $5,000 — the sum requested on the GoFundMe page. In part, the page states, “We need help to keep the doors open for the historic Chillicothe Town Theatre!” As of mid-Wednesday, the campaign was more than halfway toward the goal. 

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The bright lights of the vintage marquee on the Town Theatre in Chillicothe invite customers inside on a frigid Feb. 8, 2011. This week, the board that runs the theater set up a GoFundMe page to raise $5,000 to keep the venue's doors open.

The public can also help simply by buying tickets and watching movies at the Town. This week will feature two potential blockbusters from Marvel: “Venom” and “The Eternals.” Showing times can be found on the venue's website or Facebook page.

“We’re hoping for a huge weekend,” Timmerman said.

Phil Luciano is a Journal Star columnist. He can be reached at pluciano@pjstar.com and (309) 686-3155. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.