UPDATE: According to Olympic Theatre owner Norma Pappas, conversations with her booking agent have confirmed that she can keep the theater open and showing a few more movies on film format into March, albeit with some anticipated disruptions due to supply and her needing time with her family later in February.
“Sadly, there is no anticipated or viable title available for this week,” Pappas said on Tuesday, Feb. 4. “However, I will be back onscreen with an encore engagement of Disney’s ‘Frozen’ next week, starting on Friday, Feb. 14.”
ARLINGTON — The Olympic Theatre has been a landmark in downtown Arlington since 1939, and Norma Pappas has been at its helm since 1977, when she bought it with her dad, but the Tuesday, Feb. 4, showing of The Hobbit could be its final screening.
“It just didn’t work out,” Pappas said. “We were never able to secure the digital projector that everyone in town seems to think that we already have, and without that, I won’t be able to show any more films. This building will be on the market very soon, and while I’d love to see it remain a movie theater, whoever buys it will also need to have a digital projector to show films here. Not only are digital projectors so size-specific that they almost have to be designed for their theaters, but the technology itself is changing so rapidly that any system we get now could be obsolete in a couple of years.”
Pappas cited two examples from last fall which underscored the increasing difficulty of simply maintaining the theater’s operations.
“In October, one of the films I received was so badly damaged that I had to help manually feed it into the projector for the full two hours of its running time, every time I screened it,” Pappas said. “I asked the movie studio for another copy of the film, but so few movies are even released on film anymore that they said no. At the start of this year, I was already told by several studios that none of their movies would be on film.”
In November, Pappas suffered an even more stressful setback when her movie projector bulb blew out.
“They don’t even make new bulbs for my old film projector,” Pappas said. “Fortunately, I was able to find a used bulb, which had almost as many hours on it as the one that it replaced, but if I hadn’t, I would have had to close the Olympic Theatre right then and there.”
Beyond the need to upgrade to new technology, Pappas is fighting economic factors as well, from a minimum wage that she cites as making it difficult for her to pay her high school employees, to the lack of paying customers.
“From September through December of last year, I had one movie that turned a profit — ‘Frozen’ — which I screened for two weeks,” Pappas said. “I’ve cut back on everything that I can, but without people supporting us by buying tickets to our shows, I just can’t do it. I have to pay for heating in the winter. Almost all of my friends are retired. I’ve been running this place seven days a week for 37 years, and the past 30 of those years, I haven’t even been able to attend my mother’s birthday parties. She lives in Arizona, and she’s turning 80 this year. I’m not missing that this year.”
Lisa Clarke spoke on behalf of the Board of Directors for the 501(c)(3) Olympic Theatre Foundation, when she explained that the foundation will be going dormant, but will remain intact to pursue other opportunities.
“As examples, if the building were sold to a buyer who wished to engage the foundation to handle its operations, or if an individual or entity wished to carry the contract on the building to allow the foundation to purchase it, these are certainly possibilities,” Clarke said. “Our interest remains, and always has been, to find a way for the Olympic Theatre to remain in Arlington, providing a great moviegoing experience to all.”
Clarke encouraged those with ideas or suggestions to contact the Olympic Theatre Foundation at email@example.com.