The show goes on at Newport’s Roxy Theater
Thu., Aug. 24, 2017
Alissa Jackson, prepares popcorn in the Roxy lobby on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017, in Newport, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
The iconic Roxy Theater in Newport that was a destination for northeast Washington and North Idaho moviegoers has been reborn.
Films are once again showing on a screen that first began attracting crowds in 1951, when the theater was built by Dick Bishop and his father, Charles. Dick and his wife, Gladys, purchased it in 1956 and ran it until Dick’s death in December 2007, when it was sold to Kevin and Cara Wright. It shut down in 2015 and sat empty until it was spotted by Jason and Brittany Totland.
“We’d been looking for a business to open,” Brittany said. The couple had been considering a coffee shop, not a movie theater, she said. Jason, who grew up in Newport, found the theater calling to him even though he doesn’t often watch movies.
“We knew this was something we had to do,” he said. “We’re not really movie people. This is something that needed to be done.”
Part of the draw to owning the business was that Jason had worked for Gladys Bishop when he was a kid. He was paid $10 a night and got all the popcorn and soda he wanted, plus a piece of candy.
“I was the bouncer,” he said. “I sat out there and yelled at the kids with their phones out.”
The Roxy officially reopened on July 27. The lobby is much the same as it always was and the theater still offers second-run movies, showing new releases several weeks after they open in larger theaters.
Before the Totlands bought the business, they raised $16,000 through a fundraiser and they’ve spent all of it. There were several broken water pipes and the air conditioning didn’t work. They also discovered that the projection and sound equipment had been repossessed.
The Roxy has one screen – sort of. It was a single-screen movie theater until 2012, when the previous owner walled off the back of the theater and turned that section into two tiny 64-seat theaters. The idea was to offer a wider selection of movies on three screens, but it was a disaster, Jason said. Attendance plummeted by two-thirds and never recovered, partly because prices went up at the same time, he said.
He plans to tear down the walls and restore the theater to its original configuration, which will cost an estimated $35,000. But first he needs to raise the money to fix the leaking roof.
“Our hope is to restore this,” he said.
Until the theater is restored, the two minitheaters sit empty. “We don’t do anything in here,” he said. “They’re abandoned.”
Jason said he also has restored prices to their former level. Admission is $8.50 for adults and $6.50 for kids, seniors and military. A large popcorn is $4.50.
Jason, who works as a network engineer, said he will be happy if the theater breaks even. “I’m definitely not quitting my day job,” he said. “Less people are coming than we projected, by far, but we’re OK.”
The couple sell a movie subscription that has proved popular. People sign up for $16 a month, which allows them to skip the line, see as many movies as they want and get a 10 percent discount on concessions.
They also have big plans for the future. They’ve applied for a liquor license and will start serving beer and wine. They’re also considering having concerts on Thursday nights and showing cartoons on Saturday mornings. And they now have free showings of “Game of Thrones” every Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
“Let’s be honest,” Jason said. “I’m in there watching it anyway. I might was well open the doors.”
On a recent evening as the clock neared 7 p.m., popcorn streamed out of the popper as last-minute preparations were finished. Lisa Ropp, her husband, Allan, and their children were the first in the door.
The couple live in Sandpoint but were in town visiting family and stopped by. Allan grew up going to the Roxy. “I think I watched ‘Bambi’ here,” he said. “We really missed it. I’m glad it’s back open again.”
Other entertainment options in the area are limited, Lisa Ropp said. “It’s one of the big things we have to take the kids to,” she said.
Kari Hamblen also brought her children, who were thrilled to catch the last showing of “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.” They like to go out and see a movie once or twice a month but the drive to Spokane takes a long time, Hamblen said. There’s no movie theater within 50 miles.
“We were excited it was opening back up,” Hamblen said. “It’s a lot closer for us.”
Everyone seems happy to have the theater back open again, Jason said.
“I’ve had more strangers hug me in the last month than ever. It’s cool that we got an opportunity to do something like this,” he said.
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