Community looks to save Olympic Theatre

Nikki Fee, left, listens as Norma Pappas, owner and operator of the Olympic Theatre in Arlington, explains the difficulties in keeping the movie house running. - Kirk Boxleitner
Nikki Fee, left, listens as Norma Pappas, owner and operator of the Olympic Theatre in Arlington, explains the difficulties in keeping the movie house running.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

ARLINGTON — The community members who met at the Local Scoop Restaurant to “Save the Olympic Theatre” on Tuesday, Aug. 21, were able to agree on one thing; they have much more work ahead of them to do before they can proceed.

William Frankhouser manages the online promotions for Norma Pappas, owner and operator of the Olympic Theatre in Arlington, and he’s set up a website, a Facebook page, an email contact and a phone number for community members to learn more or get in touch with the organizers of the campaign to save the theater. In the meantime, Frankhouser facilitated the Tuesday evening meeting at the Local Scoop, which received input from concerned citizens of all ages.

“I would love for someone to finally take over the theater,” said Pappas, who’s run the Olympic for nearly 36 years. “I’ve tried to train people, but it hasn’t worked out. I’m there every single day for each showing, and it’s exhausting. I’m ready to retire.”

With movie theaters converting to digital film, Pappas is facing as much as a $100,000 upgrade fee for new equipment, which would require her to dispense with the old equipment in which she’s already invested more than $50,000. Coupled with an absence in standardization in the digital format and the destruction of old films to make way for digital, she’s caught between an old format that will no longer exist and a new format that remains nebulous and well out of reach of her budget.

Meeting attendees acknowledged the difficulties of sustaining the Olympic Theatre, but everyone present voiced their support for it as a valuable community resource.

“The local movie theater gives kids a good activity and a nice place to hang out,” said Nikki Fee. “Without those things, young people will get into gang problems. We’re not supporting our local businesses.”

Although a number of attendees favored funding the Olympic Theatre through a newly created nonprofit foundation, Karen Rhodes pointed out that such a measure would require continuous fundraising and volunteer commitment in the long run.

“As it stands, Norma can hardly even afford to pay herself anymore,” Rhodes said.

“I actually lost money on the theater last year,” Pappas said.

Arlington High School students Kiara Mueller, Emiley Royals and Ariel Taylor pledged to involve their peers, with Mueller suggesting that the PTA and AHS Drama get involved, while Royals noted that local restaurants such as La Hacienda have served as sites for such causes, and Taylor promised to recruit fellow members of the AHS Air Force Junior ROTC.

“We can go to friends’ houses and pitch this to a younger audience,” Mueller said.

“Arlington is such a close community that everyone cares about each other,” Royals said.

“We’re teenagers,” Taylor said. “We don’t have anything else to do.”

Gary Ray, who started a community co-op at the former Trafton School, wondered whether Pappas could upgrade her Blu-ray player to run movies after they’ve already appeared in other theaters, thereby saving her some money and creating a more unique niche for her theater. Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert considered the number of options available to Pappas and asked Frankhouser whether an online poll of choices could be submitted to the community directly, so that they might choose how to support the Olympic Theatre.

“It’s clear that we still need a vision here,” Frankhouser said.

The next “Save the Olympic Theatre” meeting is currently scheduled for 6 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 10, again at the Local Scoop.

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