The business survival of the Roxy Theater may depend on a community fund-raising drive to bring the Eatonville moviehouse into the modern age of film.
Led by one of the organizers of the town’s annual Independence Day celebration, the drive has a goal of $70,000 to help the theater’s owners buy equipment to show digital movies. Without the upgrade, the Roxy will probably close as early as next year.
The theater’s co-owners, Mike Wood and Dean Wadell, have said for several years that Hollywood’s conversion to all-digital could drive small, independent theaters like theirs out of business because of the prohibitive cost of switching from reel projection systems.
Wood said last week that there is no “draw-the-line-in-the-sand date” for when the conversion must happen, but “everything we hear is probably some time in the first quarter of next year.” The result, he predicted, is movie distributors will lose 30 percent of the screens nationally, most of them single-screen theaters like the Roxy that haven’t or can’t change to digital.
To keep the Roxy going and preserve the cinematic slice of smalltown Americana, Karen Woodcock, owner of All About You Salon in Eatonville, is heading fund-raising efforts that are in the early stages.
“We’ve heard the rumors that the Roxy could close,” Woodcock said. “Eatonville has always been known as having a big heart. It’s time to show how big. It’s going to take each one of us to help in any way we can.”
To get started, name plaques identifying each purchaser are being sold and will be mounted on the backs of theater seats for $300. Woodcock said last week that 150 are available, with “three easy ways to pay.”
A meeting of Roxy supporters is scheduled for Sept. 26 at the theater. Information about that and the rest of the community effort is available at firstname.lastname@example.org, Woodcock said.
The Roxy’s owners are appreciative. “Very nice,” Wood said. “We have to thank Karen and everyone else for stepping up. It feels like momentum is building.”
Woodcock and others spearhead annual fund-raising that pays for a professional fireworks show and covers other costs of a community Fourth of July event.
Wood noted there’s hope for the Roxy, as communities have successfully rallied around similar theaters elsewhere to help pay for digital equipment. It happened in Port Townsend, and a drive is underway in Concrete.
If the effort falls short in Eatonville, Wood and Wadell have agreed to return to donors “bigger” individual contributions and give the rest of fund-raised money to local charities. Anything raised beyond the target amount will also go to charities, Woodcock said.
Eatonville has had a movie theater virtually non-stop since the Roxy opened in 1942. Business has declined as customers turned to rentals and other sources of movie entertainment at home or drove to multiplexes in other towns.
Wood, Wadell and a third owner, Kendall Kerr, also have two single-screen theaters in Enumclaw – the Chalet and Enumclaw Cinema. The three theaters comprise about one-third of all the independent moviehouses left in western Washington, according to Wadell.