An independent Kingston movie theatre owner says the theatre will be popping popcorn and welcoming back guests as soon as they’re allowed, after the community helped raise $100,000 to keep the cinema’s doors open during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like other independent theatres in the province, The Screening Room has had a difficult year under COVID-19.
Owner Wendy Huot told CTV News it has been one of mixed emotions and questions.
“When would we be able to reopen? Would we be able to reopen? Will there be a future for the movie theatre business? This year has been wild both emotionally and financially,” she said.
The theatre at 120 Princess St. has been in business for more than 20 years. It has three screens and plays indie and classic films.
When it finally could open its doors, Huot had to reduce capacity and change the way they cleaned, among other things.
She said the theatre was losing thousands of dollars a month at times.
After seeing campaigns by fellow local small theatres, including Ottawa’s Mayfair Theatre, Huot says she decided to host her own fundraiser called the “Friends of the Screening Room,” which turned out to be more successful that she ever thought it would be.
“So, it became clear that it was absolutely the right idea,” she said.
It was an offer many couldn’t refuse. Huot says the campaign raised $100,000 in just over two months, more than double what she imagined they’d raise, despite launching it through a simple email newsletter.
“I think in the first hour we got over $8000 of donations and sales so that was very weird that that all happened in an hour,” laughed Huot.
There were different, creative ways to donate, including a ‘sponsor a seat’ campaign’, where patrons could buy a silver-plated plaque that is placed on the back of a chair. All 210 have since sold out.
Another popular sponsorship campaign was the ‘gold membership card’ where, for $1,000, patrons could buy the card and see as many movies as they’d like for three years. That, too, sold out.
“It was the change from feeling a bit of despair about the situation to feeling confident and optimistic,” said Huot.
Jane Johnston sponsored a seat. She said the theatre is important to the community.
“It’s just a wonderful place,” she said. “I just wanted to make sure it survived. I would be so disappointed if we didn’t have that gem in the downtown.”
James Jevines has a membership and he calls the theatre an important hub.
“I think it drives a lot of people downtown, helps support local business,” he said.
While some of the specific campaigns have closed, Huot says she’ll continue to accept donations.
In the meantime, she can’t wait to open the box office after a difficult year.
“Being reminded that people love seeing movies in the movie theatre, even if right now they're unable to do so, and just feeling confident that people will come back,” she says.