North Bend theater nears fundraising goal
September 4, 2013
By Sam Kenyon
Cindy Walker had no idea people would be willing to help so much if you just ask them.
Up until now the North Bend Theatre, which Walker and her husband bought in 2006, has screened movies in 35 millimeter film. Large movie studios, like Warner Brothers and Universal, soon will no longer be distributing their films in 35mm. These studios produce many of the family movies that are a staple of the theatre’s business.
Walker anticipates the next “Hunger Games” film will be the first big fall movie not to be released in 35 mm. In order to continue to be able to screen first-run films, the North Bend Theatre must convert to a digital projection system, at a cost of approximately $100,000.
As of Sept. 3, the theatre has raised more than $97,000. Walker uses the online crowd-sourcing platform gofundme.com to track the donations. She kicked off the fundraising effort on May 1, and the local community has rallied in support of the theatre.
“I think it’s a privilege to be able to support this theatre,” said Bev Jorgensen, a family friend and strong supporter of the fundraising effort. Jorgensen is highly confident of the North Bend community’s ability to help the theatre.
“This is a community that bonds together,” she said. “It’s a community that makes things happen.”
The community ties of the theatre are the reason fundraising has been so strong.
“We’ve worked really hard to reach out to the community,” Walker said.
The theatre hosts festivals, parties and shows a free matinee for kids during their breaks from school. Members of the community feel a sense of personal ownership of the theatre.
“I think that it has to do with the character of the place,” Walker said.
She has been especially impressed with the power of individual donations of less than $100. Nearly 45 percent of the total funds raised are from small donations.
“To see it really come to fruition is an affirmation,” she said.
The North Bend Theatre occupies a special place in town. It is a source of entertainment, memories and nostalgia, and the distinct, classic style of its building helps give character to the area.
“I think it’s important to have a movie theater that can support first-run movies, right in downtown North Bend,” said Danny Kolke, owner of the local restaurant and jazz club Boxley’s. “Helps bring families out.”
Kolke is also president of the Boxley Music Fund, a nonprofit organization. Both the music fund and the jazz club have donated to the theatre.
Jorgensen’s son Greg has worked at the North Bend Theatre for five years. He has Down syndrome, and he cleans up the theatre five days a week. She says Greg has grown a lot personally because of the job, and they are very grateful for that.
She hopes people understand “how blessed this community is to have the Walker family in it.”
Jorgensen organized a fundraiser at the theatre, with a silent auction and a screening of the film “The Majestic.” Local businesses donated pizza and sandwiches, and $2,500 was raised.
Jorgensen’s fundraiser was not the first to help with the theatre’s cause. The Sallal Grange Community Hall raised $1,000 for the theatre.
Walker has been astonished and humbled by the outpouring of support. She takes it as a signal that her outreach efforts make a difference.
“The things that we’ve been doing really are reaching a lot of people,” she said. “And they care.”
At first the goal of $100,000 seemed daunting. But after she saw the early reaction from the community, Walker became more optimistic.
“I think there’s 1,000 people that care $100 for [the theatre],” she said. “That made it not seem so insurmountable.”
Supporters like Jorgensen keep spreading awareness through social networks like Facebook.
“It’s a rock of our town,” she said. “We need it. We need the theatre.”
This is not the first time the theatre, built in 1941, has needed a large investment. In 1999, the previous owners, the Slovers, did extensive renovations to the theatre. They gave the theatre its current, classic look when it reopened in 2000. The pleated curtains along the walls and vintage seats separate the North Bend Theatre from larger movie theaters.
“I think that’s what keeps us relevant,” Walker said.
The Walkers see the theatre as a local institution, and they feel responsible for its preservation. They want to convert the theatre to digital so that it can continue to serve the community long term.
“We’ve always kind of viewed ourselves as stewards of this place,” she said. “We’re not going to own it forever. It was here a long time before we got here, and God willing it’ll be here a long time after we’re gone.”
Sam Kenyon is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.