BARRINGTON – It’s an old theater with a fresh face. While the Catlow becomes more and more modernized, theater owner Tim O’Connor shares the one historical aspect he refuses to change.
“It will always be a one screen theater,” O’Connor said.
The Catlow Kickstarter campaign raised more than $150,000 to keep the theater open in July 2012 when O’Connor realized it would take drastic measures to afford a digital projection system. All new films would be digital-only and O’Connor said he had no other option.
O’Connor and fiance, Roberta Repata had mentioned to bank personnel that theater may need a loan to modernize and stay open – but the bank’s response was worrysome.
“They asked what we would use for collateral,” O’Connor said. “That seemed like a pretty good indication that we needed to seek alternative funding.”
The digital projector would cost $100,000 and Barrington resident Cindy Waltenspiel said she immediately donated $100 to keep the theater running.
“My husband, Herb, and I had been visiting the Catlow for 10 years,” Waltenspiel said. “I didn’t want to see it close.”
O’Connor said 1,393 other generous donors followed suit and the Kickstarter campaign achieved its $100,000 goal in less than one week.
“We spent every last dollar on this huge upgrade project, plus another $30,000 of our own” O’Connor said. “The support was a huge surprise for us.”
Having now installed a digital projector, a new movie screen, electrical lighting and 200 new seats, as well as upgrading surround sound and media equipment, remodeling the lobby, expanding the women’s bathroom and repainting the large Main Street vertical sign and marquee outside the theater, O’Connor said it has been a labor of love fulfilling the Catlow’s promise to its donors.
Donors received compensation for their gifts in the form of movie passes, refreshments, Boloney’s meals, photo and name listings and low-priced onscreen ads for business owners. More big ticket favors included a private movie party for up to 200 people or the opportunity to be the theater’s projectionist for a night before the digital conversion.
“One donor had his entire group of friends and family visit to see the Blues Brothers,” O’Connor said.
Waltenspiel has visited the Catlow post-remodel and said she was quite impressed.
“The movies are very clear and the sound is great,” Waltenspiel said. “You can see the feature from any seat. Plus, the seats are comfortable with cupholders – something we had always wished for in the past.”
The Waltenspiels recently purchased two new seats for the Catlow and received four movie passes and four free Boloney’s sandwiches in return.
Cindy Waltenspiel said the Reuben sandwich is the couple’s favorite, and they make sure to arrive at the theater early to secure their new seats with their name plates on the back.
“It makes us feel special,” Cindy Waltenspiel said. “It’s a beautiful, ornate theater and the owners are very kind. Tim and Roberta make us feel like a part of the Catlow family.”
The Waltenspiels vote online for the new movies they would like to see at the Catlow and Cindy Waltenspiel said she would like to continue visiting to see a movie at least twice a month – more often in the summer months.
“I would love for the Catlow to continue to flourish while keeping its original charm, warmth and great prices,” Cindy Waltenspiel said.
An additional in-house Catlow campaign for new seats wrapped up Tuesday, Dec. 31 and O’Connor said this campaign raised enough money for 222 new seats to be installed in the next few months.
Prior to the Kickstarter campaign, the Catlow housed 706 retro theater seats. It now has 625 seats – a mix of old and new – and O’Connor said the number of total seats will continue to decrease as new seats are purchased and installed.
“We would rather have people sit comfortably than feel cramped the whole time,” O’Connor said. “We are leaving extra room for wheelchair patrons and walkers.”
O’Connor said anyone who wishes to preserve some of the old seats in the Catlow can purchase a name plate for their seat and it will stay as is. Moreover, O’Connor will be selling non-reserved old seats once the newer replacements are installed – much like he did with the first installation in June.
“The last batch literally flew out the door,” O’Connor said. “One man bought an entire row for his home theater. Others bought the old seats for their business waiting rooms, homes or as gifts for friends and family. They’re a hot item.”
O’Connor said he hopes the upgrades will bring in a more continuous flow of business and allow the theater to become self sufficient.
“We want to avoid having to bother anyone by asking for financial assistance ever again,” O’Connor said.
The Catlow owner echoed Cindy Waltenspiel’s appreciation for the theater’s historical charm.
“So many people saw their first movie or had their first date here,” O’Connor said. “It’s one of the last single screen theaters in the area – an anchor to the community – and it would be a shame to see anything bad happen to this building.”
O’Connor said that for as long as he owns the Catlow, he will do whatever he can to keep it alive and thriving.
“We want to see it survive for future generations,” O’Connor said.