WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — In an era where watching movies is as easy as logging onto the Internet or making a selection from a supermarket display, small communities across Kansas are reviving old theaters to give residents a place to socialize while taking in the latest flick.
Community-owned theaters have popped up Larned, Tribune, Marysville, St. Francis and many other rural towns, filling a void created over the past several decades as many of the theaters fell victim to multiplex theaters were built in surrounding communities.
With the revival of small-town theaters comes the glitzy marquees lighting up dim Main Streets across the state, The Wichita Eagle reported.
In Stafford, a town of nearly 1,000 residents 85 miles northwest of Wichita, the Ritz is the city’s symbol of hope. The theater had been vacant for at least a decade before a community group took it over in 1990.
“In our community, the bowling alley was bought by an individual and eventually closed. There is no roller skating rink,” said Deana Eisenhour, office clerk for the city of Stafford. “This is all we have to offer the community in terms of entertainment.”
Stafford’s community-owned theater opens on the first and fourth weekends of each month, charging $5 for adults and $3 for children for first-run movies. The Stafford City Council voted last year to spend $45,000 on a digital system to keep the 250-seat theater open.
Marci Penner, director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation based near Inman, estimates there are more than 30 theaters open in small towns across Kansas.
“Sure, people can watch things on Netflix or HBO or whatever, but people — especially in rural areas — want to go out and be around other people,” she said.
When the Larned State Theater was closed in the mid-1990s, town leaders looking to give the community’s youth something to do began discussing how the town could purchase the building and get it up and running again.
“We thought if we could do that, it would be good for the whole community,” said Jim White, president of the theater’s board of directors. “And, if we could keep our kids in Larned, then we wouldn’t have them out driving the roads.”
Community fundraisers helped pay for new seats, digital sound systems and heating and air-conditioning upgrades. White said the theater has no debt, averages about 15,000 people a year buying tickets and has overwhelming public support.
“We still have to hang the letters on our marquee, but that’s one of our pride and joys,” he said. “We believe our theater is one of the best kept secrets in Kansas.”
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