A slew of circumstances has brought the owners of the Webster Theater to their recent decision to close down.
Than and Sarah Mott took possession of the theater in June last year. Than Mott said last summer saw good ticket sales and brought people into the theater regularly. Then, according to a February interview with the Daily Freeman-Journal, Sarah Mott said the former owners of the theater, Big Time Cinema, threatened them with eviction after difficulties in closing on the sale of the theater. Then, Big Time Cinema went into bankruptcy. The Motts were told by the bank to just keep running the theaters.
Still, the couple found difficulty in just doing that. The building itself was left in a bad state by Big Time Cinema, according to Than Mott. He said the floor in the women’s restroom is starting to rot out, the roof is in poor condition and some theater seats need replacing. On top of that, Than Mott said they would need between $45,000 and $50,000 to convert from film reel to a digital film format.
Those costs could have been manageable, but Than Mott said attendance at the theater hasn’t been good since July. Despite trying to bring in timely, big-budget films, the theater could not find enough local support and interest to finance the needs of the theater.
“It just wasn’t going to be cost effective for us to continue running it when people weren’t coming in,” Than Mott said. “It’s not like we wanted to close the theater, but it got to the point where we had to close the theater.”
As of now, the theater is now being listed by Wells Fargo and the employees of the theater have been laid off. The theater is currently showing “Warm Bodies” through March 7. Than Mott said they might show a movie until the end of the month if they have one to show. However, the theater will not be open during inclement weather because the owners won’t be there to operate it themselves.
Than Mott has heard mixed reactions to the theater’s closing. While a few people have come in to help give them some business near the end, others have been less polite. Than Mott said one woman demand that they play free movies before they close, even though the theater had been showing several free movies prior to their decision to close.
“She basically said, ‘You’re closing the theater. You’re taking it away. You deserve to give us a free movie.’ It’s attitudes like that which are another reason why we’re walking away,” Than Mott said.
One of the few things that has helped Webster theater stay open is the success of the Metropolitan theater in Iowa Falls. Than Mott said business has been big there, and they are moving forward with the purchase and digital conversion of that building. However, the owners were straining that business in order to keep another alive.
While Than Mott said the experience has been financially and emotionally exhausting, the couple has enjoyed their time there.
“The theater has the potential to be something big, but it’s going to take a lot of money to get it there,” Than Mott said