Catlow owner seeks online help to save theater
The Catlow Theater in downtown Barrington hasn't survived for 85 years by not constantly rising to the challenge of staying relevant.
And for the second time in the 21st century alone, the historic landmark is facing another threat to its existence.
This time the danger is far from the inadequate business the Catlow was seeing about a decade ago but rather the now-or-never conversion from film to digital projection the theater must make to keep entertaining its loyal audiences each weekend.
Late this week, Catlow owner Tim O'Connor took the advice of some of his patrons and launched an online campaign on Kickstarter.com to raise the $100,000 the theater needs before Sept. 24.
In exchange for donations running anywhere from $10 to $2,000, benefactors can receive anything from one evening's to two years' free admission to the Catlow all the way up to the opportunity of being a guest projectionist during the final days of film.
As of Friday night, 318 backers had already pledged $35,477. But the way Kickstarter works, no funding will be provided if the full $100,000 isn't pledged by Sept. 24.
O'Connor said he's trying to avoid the same fate as Arlington Theaters in downtown Arlington Heights, which closed earlier this summer in part because of its inability to afford the mandatory cost of converting to digital.
Barrington Village President Karen Darch said the Catlow has long been an important part of the downtown's vitality -- and she hopes it remains so after a planned retail redevelopment across the street from it is completed.
While large multiplex chains are finding it easier to come up with the money for the digital conversion, for many independent theaters like the Catlow, the additional cost is going to be virtually impossible to handle on their own, O'Connor said.
The movie industry is expecting to stop distributing new titles on film sometime within the next 12 to 18 months. The new method will be exclusively on digital hard drives.
"The deadline is looming over all the exhibitors that haven't converted yet," O'Connor said Friday. "There is a lot of speculation but no actual word as to when that deadline will be. Some say by the end of 2013, others say by mid-2013. Whenever it is, we've basically been told, go digital or go dark. Either switch over to digital or go out of business."
This technical threat is significantly different from the downturn in business and financial setbacks caused by structural repairs and maintenance the Catlow faced a decade ago, he said.
"Then, after we showed 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding,' it introduced a new crowd to Boloney's (sandwich shop) and the Catlow, and we were able to carry on with business as usual," O'Connor said. "So Nia Vardalos was instrumental in helping to save the Catlow. We even contacted her through Roger Ebert to thank her. She sent us an autographed poster with a personal message wishing us luck."