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Small-town movie houses like Chillicothe’s Town Theater are hurting

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Chillicothe Town Theatre

Streaming entertainment options helped preoccupy viewers during the pandemic but the public’s habit of watching first-run films at home is having an impact on small-town theaters like Chillicothe's Town Theater.

“After the pandemic it just seems like there’s no interest in people going back to the movie theater,” said Chad Timmerman, a member of the Optimists Club of Chillicothe who oversees operations at the movie house acquired by the club 12 years ago.

“I think (people) have gotten so used to streaming or what have you at home that they just don’t want to entertain a good movie at the theater anymore,” he said.

Small-town movie houses like the Town Theater were hit hard by the pandemic. The Chillicothe theater was closed 80 percent of the time in 2020.

In 2021, the theater has remained open while following state guidelines throughout the pandemic, said Timmerman, noting that “we’re back to masks but we’ve really upped our game as far as cleaning goes.” Despite the precautions, moviegoers haven’t responded, he said.

Attendance at a theater that runs five shows each weekend has fallen to under 100 people a week, said Timmerman.

“We used to get 300 to 400 people in a week,” he said.

Having fewer customers creates another problem. Declining numbers make it harder for the theater to book new releases in a timely fashion, said Timmerman.

“They do a rating and with our low attendance lately, we’re really struggling to get those new releases,” he said.

Timmerman said he hoped the recent “Venom” release might spark some interest when the Town Theater books it later this month.

But they don’t call it the optimist club for nothing. Timmerman said the club was hopeful a new marketing plan being produced for 2022 would return folks to the theater.

“Unfortunately, it depends on how Hollywood is going to help us here. If they’re going to offer streaming the same time they release the movie to the theater, that’s not going to help us but we’re trying to be optimistic on those new releases in the future,” he said.

A “GoFundMe” drive has raised $10,000 to date in support of the Chillicothe theater, a figure that Timmerman described as “humbling.”

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