'This story is not finished': Pickwick Theatre owner fielding offers that could keep movie palace open
Like Indiana Jones escaping the snake-filled Well of Souls or Han Solo emerging from carbonite in Jabba's palace, Park Ridge's Pickwick Theatre may evade doom and live on to give movie lovers more cinematic adventures.
"This story is not finished," theater owner Dino Vlahakis said Thursday.
Earlier this week, Vlahakis announced plans to retire and close the art deco palace at 5 S. Prospect Ave., which has been showing movies since 1928.
Since then, the Park Ridge resident has been approached by movie theater operators and a live theater group that are interested in the space.
Vlahakis, whose family long has owned the Pickwick building, hopes the theater hasn't yet entered its final act.
"I'd like to find someone to take it over," said Vlahakis, who worked as an usher at the theater as a child and took over operations with his sister, Elaine, in 1981. "There's somebody out there."
Park Ridge Mayor Marty Maloney called the chatter about a potential savior for the theater exciting.
"It's a huge part of our community -- not only our present, but our history as well," Maloney said.
The Pickwick consists of two buildings: the historic main theater that seats 900 people, and a rear building with four screens.
Vlahakis said he had hoped to retire after the Pickwick turns 100 in 2028, but the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of streaming services hastened his departure from the business.
Before the pandemic, the Pickwick sold about 4,000 tickets in a week, Vlahakis said. Lately, that number is down to about 500 -- well below the break-even point, he said.
"(We were) burning capital," he said. "I thought the writing was on the wall."
Ticket sales have exploded since word got out about Vlahakis' intention to close the Pickwick, however. People ordered about 1,000 tickets on Wednesday alone, he said.
"It was an amazing thing," he said. "Everybody's buying tickets to see one more movie."
Maloney said he knows so many people who saw their first movie at the Pickwick or went on the first date with their future spouses there. The prospect of the curtain dropping there for good, he said, is disappointing.
If it does close, the building -- which contains several other businesses in addition to the theater -- is a protected landmark that would remain standing, Maloney said.
When Vlahakis made his announcement, he chose Jan. 8 for the final showing and "Gone With the Wind" as the final film. The 1939 classic was the first movie he showed when he took over the theater 41 years ago.
That event now likely will be bumped to Jan. 12, Vlahakis said Thursday.
Even with his personal retirement plans moving forward, Vlahakis sounded optimistic about the Pickwick's future.
"It'd be a shame (to close)," he said. "We're a beacon in Park Ridge."