Digital age threatens Greeley theater

New costs come as tepid economy slices ticket sales

Theater manager John Jankow focuses the film projector at the Kress Cinema and Lounge in downtown Greeley. Enlarge photo

Joshua Polson/The (Greeley) Tribune

Theater manager John Jankow focuses the film projector at the Kress Cinema and Lounge in downtown Greeley.

GREELEY

The Kress Cinema & Lounge looked like a good business plan back in 2007. Ron and Linde Thompson opened it a year later, in September, when the economy crashed.

They had a plan to operate a kitchen with the Island Grill restaurant. When the restaurant closed a year later, Ron carved enough room for their own kitchen out of a hallway.

When they had to cut back on staff and hours because of the recession, they worried about losing a chunk of valued customers who prefer to see a movie on a weekday. They stayed open Thursdays, and all those customers came Thursdays.

So when John Jankow, their first and only manager, called this summer to tell them he needed to meet with them, they fretted that he was quitting – not that he would have any more bad news that would threaten their business. They’d gotten through just about anything. But they were wrong.

The Kress needed a new digital projector. It would cost $80,000. And they probably needed it by next spring. And there was no alternative, no work-around, no hallway to build another kitchen.

The Kress, as about 1,000 small theaters nationwide, has a 35-mm film projector, and studios are converting to digital at a faster clip than anyone, including those at the Kress, anticipated. Several other small, independent theaters had already given up, Jankow said.

Studios aren’t saying when the full conversion will take place, but Jankow thinks next spring, and when it does, it’s pretty simple: No digital projector, no movies, as studios won’t ship film any longer. It’s already affecting the Kress: They hosted a “quote along” with a scratched copy of “The Princess Bride” earlier this year because no other copy was available.

You haven’t heard complaints from large movie corporations, such as, say, Cinemark, because they either already have digital projectors or can afford them. But for the Kress, the $80,000 it will cost to upgrade is literally a killer: If the Thompsons can’t raise the money, the Kress is finished.

But there is a last-ditch effort. The Kress has a Kickstarter campaign to raise the $80,000 to replace the projector. On Monday, with 14 days left in the campaign, the Kress still was 68 percent shy of its fundraising goal.

Kickstarter is a website that allows people to raise money for a project. Shawn Waggoner, a Greeley musician, used it this summer to fund her latest album. The trick is this: You either raise all the money or you get nothing.

If it seems strange for a private business to raise money through a website, well, the Thompsons weren’t sure about it at first, either. But the Lyric in Fort Collins, a theater similar to the Kress, survived because of its own summer campaign, and many of those same small theaters nationwide are using Kickstarter, as well – most of them successfully.

“It’s possible that people may come in more if they do donate,” Linde said. “They may feel like they are a part of it now, like they have some stake in it.”

The Thompsons opened the Kress because they felt that same buy-in to downtown. The Thompsons are champions of that area, and historic preservation is a religion to them. They loved the building, and Bob Tointon, another believer, owned it. They chose a movie theater because they didn’t want to open just another bar or restaurant.

“Whenever we brought up the idea of a movie theater,” Ron said, “people got really excited about it.”

The Kress never did live up to those expectations placed in 2007, a year before the meltdown, but it is a good business, the Thompsons said. A significant portion of that business still comes from first-run movies – not only from ticket sales but because they bring people in for drinks and dinner. The Kress still shows many movies that are hard to find anywhere else: “The Master,” an Oscar favorite, is playing now. It also shows old, free movies Friday and Sunday nights, but those movies don’t generate the food or drink sales, and even many of those freebies would disappear eventually in the digital age. The occasional rentals and parties won’t make up the difference.

If Kickstarter comes through, the change will be a good one, they say. The Kress sometimes has trouble getting movies because of the limited number of film copies distributors can send, so the distributors tend to prefer the larger theaters, which smaller theaters for years have said gives the corporations an unfair advantage. Under the new system, since it’s just a hard drive, there should be no excuse, Jankow said. The digital sound system will be nice as well.

Most of all, this may give the Thompsons a little renewed energy. There was talk of quitting, more than once, but facing a threat like this just reaffirms what they already knew.

The Kress is not just a business. It is their life, and they would like it to be long and fruitful.

Theater manager John Jankow examines film frames at the Kress Cinema and Lounge in downtown Greeley. The Kress is using Kickstarter, a crowd-funding website, in an effort to raise funds to purchase a digital projector. Enlarge photo

Joshua Polson/

Theater manager John Jankow examines film frames at the Kress Cinema and Lounge in downtown Greeley. The Kress is using Kickstarter, a crowd-funding website, in an effort to raise funds to purchase a digital projector.

Comments » Read and share your thoughts on this story