Job: Owner, The Lory Theater at 810 Main St. in Highland (882-4977)
Outlook: "When you have a bicycle with one wheel, you can still ride it, but it's going to be difficult and you're eventually going to crash. You have to get the other wheel to get it on the ground."
Reopening a century-old movie theater has been more challenging than Justin McLaughlin and his wife, Hillary, envisioned. The couple, who had been operating a home theater installation business, jumped at the chance to bring The Lory Theater in Highland back to life. They reopened last December after the theater had been closed in July 2011. Despite their careful planning, the cost to bring both screens at the theater back to life has been more costly than initially perceived. McLaughlin opened the first-floor screen the day after Christmas and is trying to raise $57,000 online by May 4 to afford a second digital projector so he can reopen the second screen upstairs. He recently talked with business writer Will Buss about his plight:
Q. How have customers responded to the theater reopening?
A. "It's been a big mixed bag. It has been good, in general, but the problem we're experiencing currently is not the response. Our problem is because despite our attempts to make the best business plans, we are renovating a 100-year-old building, so our business plan, which in retrospect was very strong, but we could not get both screens open in time. We had run into so many problems when we first did our wave of renovation that we had to drop back and put our essential focus on getting open so we could start paying some of our bills. That's what we did and in that regard it was successful, however, when you have a bicycle with one wheel, you can still ride it, but it's going to be difficult and you're eventually going to crash. You have to get the other wheel to get it on the ground. It became very clear after a month-and-a-half that we're going to run out fast if we don't do something quickly with the theater. We were desperately trying to work on the second floor and finish as much as we could."
Q: What problems did you run into?
A: "When you renovate a 100-year-old building, you don't know that every piece of plumbing is bad. You don't know that every piece of electricity is bad. You don't know that every piece of sewer is bad. Every joist was rotted. It was a domino effect. It was the worst possible scenario."
Q: How much work did you have to do?
A: "We were gutted down to the dirt floor. The floor we were standing on was earth."
Q: How did you find out about online fundraising?
A: "It was called to our attention that the other theaters around the country who were in a similar scenario. There were not exactly the same as us, but we knew about the digital transition. We were able to get a digital projector for the first floor and we had plans get another one before we ran into problems. What happened was we knew other theaters in the same situation. We saw a lot of them had used this program called Kickstarter.com to fund their digital upgrades. Some of them were already in business. Most of them had 35-millimeter projectors and were using them, but they have to switch because the 35-millimeter film is going away. We saw a lot of them doing this and so we just copycatted them. It worked for them."
Q: What is the status of your theater installation business?
A: "Unfortunately, once the reconstruction started on the theater back in the fall, we kind of had to pull back from that because of the amount of time to it took to focus on the Lory Theater opening and keeping open. We've been open since the day after Christmas and every day since. We are a first-run movie theater and we are open every day. That's what it takes."
Q: What have you enjoyed most about owning the theater?
A: "That is an interesting question. I'll break it down to a simplistic level and say that I still have a dream and the potential to be able to work so close to home and have this business make an impact in the community, and it does that. It has a positive impact on my community and I get to work a few blocks from home. I get to see my family more often. With our other company, I often spent three hours minimum in a vehicle driving all over St. Louis. Ironically, most of our customers were in West County, but we live here. That's how it worked. It wasn't intentional. I would often be gone. With the theater right down the street, it's much better for me, personally."
Contact reporter Will Buss at email@example.com or 239-2526.