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Column

Capitol II owner heartbroken to announce movie theater is struggling to stay open

I moved to Newton from the second largest city in Illinois – Aurora – whose population is 200,000. Aurora does not have a movie theater. You’re shocked, I know.

Aurora used to have a movie theater or two, but over the years they rolled up their screens, darkened their marquees and locked their doors for good.

So when I moved to Newton, I was overJOYed the city of 15,000 had a movie theater with its own Guinness Book of World Record-holding pig in residence. Joy MiniPig is the current title holder for the most tricks accomplished by a pig in one minute.

If only Joy could pull one more trick out of her cute little monogrammed usher’s cap! Newton’s movie house, The Capitol II Theatre, could really use a miracle right now. Owner Dawn Bleeker says the theater may have to close in as few as three months. The reason? Movie studios are not releasing big tentpole movies because theaters in New York and Los Angeles have been shuttered for half a year (and counting) because of the Coronavirus.

“The studios want all theaters to be open so they can make money. But it’s hurting those of us who are open and are only able to get older releases,” Bleeker said. “The movie theater industry and the studios are very frustrated with New York because they have restaurants, bars and gyms open but not theaters. They have theaters categorized with big music concerts.

“We had a really good year last year, and thankfully, that’s the only reason we have been able to stay open this year,” Bleeker said. State and federal grants and a local bank loan also have kept the lights on and the popcorn machine running. Bleeker and her husband Paul are working without pay, as are a few friends who volunteer.

Paul Bleeker lost his full-time job as an IT professional in June as part of the COVID-19 fallout. Without Paul’s salary, the Bleekers are eating up their savings.

And while Bleeker loses her composure a couple of times while she describes the dire straits the theater is in, she is quick to point out that there are some encouraging things happening as well.

“The first weekend of October was a good one,” she says, as the 1993 Disney movie “Hocus Pocus” drew a decent audience. “And we sold a lot of concessions, which is the only way we make a profit.

“But here’s what we’re up against,” she added. “Disney just announced the movie ‘Soul,’ which was to come out at Thanksgiving will now be moved to Disney+ on Christmas Day.

“We have to prove to the studios that we can handle the new releases,” Bleeker said. “They only have so many prints, so we want people to choose to go to their local theater instead of going to another town.”

New release “The War with Grandpa” opened Oct. 9 and will play for three weeks. “Honest Thief” with Liam Neeson opens Oct. 16. “Even if you’re not wanting to come to a movie, come and get some popcorn to go,” Bleeker says. Concessions are for sale whenever the theater is open.

A recent Ladies Night Out featuring wine tasting was a success and the Bleekers are planning a Halloween night event for junior high and high school students that includes ghost stories and a tour of the creepy basement below the theater. (I was there — believe me, it is creepy.) The movie for the evening is “Lights Out.” (Go to capitol2.com for all the freaky facts.)

And for those who are wondering how Bleeker is making sure the theater is as clean as possible, she says “We’ve always wiped down the seats between every show. We bought one of those expensive electrostatic sprayers that is the big hype now. The solution we use has a three-day residual effect, but we use it every day.” Social distancing also is being accomplished by leaving seats in between groups. Employees wear face masks or shields, and movie-goers are encouraged to do the same when they are not eating or drinking.

Bleeker said there are some days when she “totally loses it” as she wonders how to keep the theater open. But most days, she puts the worry behind her and carries on.

In the back of her mind, she can’t help but remember she purchased the business eight years ago when the previous owner filed for bankruptcy.

“I own the theater, but in my mind it’s the community’s theater,” she said.

The theater is available for rentals and offers plush Joy MiniPigs for sale as well as T-shirts, magnets and playing cards. To send ideas for events, email manager@capitol2.com.

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