Editor’s note: This article is being rerun due to incorrect information by the Pen City Current as to the ownership structure of the theater. The Pen City Current regrets the error.
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Well….it’s been Facebooked….talked about…published, and gawked at, but tomorrow it becomes a reality. The Fox Theater on Avenue G in the Main Street district of downtown Fort Madison is opening for business with its first movie in close to four years.
Hugh Jackman’s X-men franchise continues with “Logan” on one side of the Fox Theater while “Lego Batman” will be played on the other. Tickets are $8 for adults which includes popcorn and a soda and $6 for children beginning at 7 p.m. Friday.
Jeff Eisentraut, owner and operator of Eisentraut Theatres Illinois said the process has been long and winding but he’s happy to see the theater ready to roll and is looking forward to earning the business of moviegoers in the area.
Eisentraut said the digital movie industry kind of pushed the smaller markets out, but now things have evened out and the cost of showing the digital films is more competitive and he’s seeing markets like this get back in the game.
“This market can support a theater. It’s big enough and things are different in the industry now than they were even five years ago. With the advent of digital projection, movies are now more available to markets like this than they were,” he said. “You used to have to strike a 35-millimeter print that cost a lot of money to do. While digital projectors are very expensive and the initial expense is greater the business plan is better. Because movie companies can now produce for a few hundred dollars what used to cost $1,500. At $1,500 you don’t make that decision to go into this size market until the larger markets have played it.”
Eisentraut said they’ve put a substantial amount of money into refurbing the theater, but was very quick to say that former owners Larry and Trudy Wright did a wonderful job maintaining the building.
“Larry did a very very good job of maintaining the basic structure of this building. The foundational things are very good. The roof is in great shape, the basement has been completely cleaned and sealed..the HVAC systems are in great shape,” Eisentraut said. “We can take care of the little things, lighting issues, things like that. This theater was in great shape in most aspects. We were able to walk in and take care of some things and anything we have retained has been cleaned and shampooed. We were able to keep the seats in the east theater.”
Other seating was brought in from the old Dallas Cowboys stadium and are in place in the west theater.
He said the company is currently looking at three other communities larger than Fort Madison to expand in.
“People are starting to read and look at markets. We’re currently looking at three other towns bigger than Fort Madison and they don’t have a theater and we’re actually thinking of building in those towns. We don’t want to see the industry cannabilized by the mega plexes 20 to 30 miles away from communities like this,” he said. “It’s the same quality and in some aspects even better because of the size. What you see here is every bit as good. We use the same equipment..in some cases we’re even better because we can do more with the sound. These seats have great acoustics, we’ve used acoustic fabric on the walls and we think the sound is every bit as good as anything you’ll find.”
“In our Hillsboro location it was a similar situation. A twin theater, old theater, and the town pretty much believed it couldn’t work. We plan to earn the customers one at a time. This is our fifth time we’ve done this. They’re going to see the value in it, the quality in the movie, the quality in the popcorn and the snacks. We’ll win them over.”
Now he says it’s time to start competing for business and introduce Fort Madison to its new theater.
“From our perspective our company is very good at operating movie theaters. We can go in and create markets where the market has stopped producing. The advent of digital meant a lot of markets closed, and now it washes out and you can see where the markets can survive. Let’s all compete for the business.”
The management team of Chris and Maddie Swed will be living on the property and said they too think the theater will help give a boost to Fort Madison’s Main Street.
Eisentraut said Swed was with him at an auction and made a commitment that, if they bought the Fox, he would come up and manage it.
“I’ll have a management team right here on top of it. Literally these two will be living right up stairs.”
Maddie said movies will be held weekdays beginning at 7 p.m. and matinees on Saturday and Sunday with shows at 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 7 p.m., and 9 p.m.