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North Iowa theatres relying on community support

Community support is vital in keeping small town movie houses alive

Posted: Jan 6, 2020 1:12 AM

HAMPTON, Iowa - Even though the weekend is winding down, you may be in the mood to see a movie for next weekend.

After the doors were open to the Windsor Theatre on Sunday afternoon, customers lined up to get their tickets for 'Knives Out', and got popcorn, candy and drinks as well. Patrons, including manager Jim Davies, are thankful to have a good source of entertainment close by that won't break the bank.

"I have a son who lives in Los Angeles. We went to a movie while we were out there, and it was $20 each."

Since the theatre reopened in 1999, the Windsor is among many in North Iowa that are owned and operated by a non-profit, meaning it relies on community support to keep it operational. And they're not the only ones.

"The smaller communities around here are now going, if you want to say, to community theatres. There's Northwood, Belmond has been a community theatre even longer than we have. I think Webster City has gone that route also, and Clarion, for example."

They've also felt the pinch when it comes to patrons coming through the doors, with Davies citing an increase in streaming services like Netflix being a factor.

"Movie attendance from when we reopened has dwindled substantially. I think 2019 was our worst year. We averaged about 430 patrons a week, and it's dropped to under 300 a week on average."

However, they still get plenty of public support.

"When we reopened 21 years ago, we did not have a movie theatre in town. My motto has always been, 'keep the kids off the streets and into the seats.' You have to provide entertainment. You can always drive to Mason City 30 miles away, but it's nice to have something here in town."

Currently, the theatre is looking to replace their popcorn machine with a new one, albeit with an antique look to fit the aura of the Windsor, though it does not come cheap; the cost for a new machine is roughly $3,000. Fortunately, patrons and businesses have stepped up.

"So far, we've raised close to $4,000 for that fundraiser. We have a bank in town, First Bank Hampton, that's willing to make a substantial contribution to it."

In addition, whatever extra that's raised will be used towards other needs.

"Anything above the popcorn popper price, we're going to put towards other equipment, such as a new ice machine, as well as any maintenance. With a 100 year old building, there's always something need fixing. A lot of that money will help us towards those maintenance expenses too."

Up Highway 65 in Northwood, moviegoers were also getting tickets for 'A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood' at the Northwood Theatre. Like the Windsor, the Northwood is also owned and operated by a non-profit group named TUNE. TUNE member Wendy Weisert says the theatre has helped drive more business in town, drawing in customers from both sides of the state line, and keeping dollars spent locally.

"A lot of Main Streets in North Iowa are dying, ours really isn't. We're working on revitalizing, keeping it going. This theatre is really good. It brings people out...every night, we have a movie going."

"Thursday nights, Friday nights, Saturday nights, those are really big. They'll go eat at a local restaurant, have a cocktail before or after. We've seen it; you watch them walk out the door and go next door, they shop here, they buy gas here."

At the concessions stand, you may notice a jar that collects donations that will go towards maintenance and upkeep for the Northwood.

"It's not cheap having a theatre. Even the projector bulbs, they're expensive. Our projector needs upkeep and expenses that people don't realize that it takes to run a theatre. We're just trying to keep up with day to day expenses too."

For those who would like to donate to the Windsor Theatre's campaign, you can write a check to the theatre. A minimum donation of $100 will reward you with a card good for 1 large popcord and 1 refill per day through the end of 2020.

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