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PrattTribune - Pratt, KS
  • Theater screens will go dark

  • Closing set at end of new release season.
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  • The Barron Theatre, a landmark in Pratt since it opened in 1930, will close its doors sometime in late August or early September but hopefully not for long.
    The Barker family, that owns the theatre, has decided not to continue operations so they can have more time with their family, said Tim Barker, theatre operator.
    "We spend so much time there. We want to spend more time with our kids," Barker said.
    The Barron has contractual obligations to play movies through the new release season that will end in August.
    Although the Barkers are not going to operate the theatre, they are anxious to find an individual or group interested in taking over the operation and keeping the theatre open.
    For years, the Barkers have been in conversation with a number of individuals and groups about operating the theatre but nothing materialized from those conversations.
    The family is not going to actively market the theatre. They will hold onto the building until some thing develops. They want to do what is best for Pratt and are open for discussion.
    "We're content to sit on the building until the right group materializes," Barker said.
    This has been a tough decision for the family because they love the theatre and don't want to see it closed. Barker spent many hours in the theatre growing up. He had his first date with his wife Kelli in the Barron and their children have spent a lot of time in the Barron so the family has emotional ties with the theatre.
    "It's a very tough thing for us. We're not walking away from that kind of history lightly. We've thought and prayed about this for a long time," Barker said.
    They will continue to seek and listen to any individual or organization that has an interest in keeping the theatre open. But whoever is interested has to be organized and they have to have a plan for the Barkers to consider them as a new owner.
    "There's a lot more to the movie industry than showing up and sitting in a chair," Barker said.
    Part of the decision stop operations comes at a time when the movie industry is shifting from 35mm film to digital format.
    It would take an estimated $110,000 to $130,000 to make the transition from film to digital and that could come down even more. But Barker said they didn't want to spend the money. Now was the time for the family to make the move out of the industry.
    "We're not going to be the ones to take it to the next level," Barker said.
    The Barron is a viable business and whoever buys it will take over a profitable business. Barron financial stability is terrific and it is doing well.
    Page 2 of 2 - However, making the investment to digital format would update the theatre but would not increase business, Barker said.
    The only problem with the Barron is that it only has two screens. The theatre experience is becoming more dynamic trending to bigger screens, louder films and better acoustics.
    Since the Barron can't be expanded, a bigger four-screen theatre would be an alternative but the Barker family is not willing to make that leap.
    Barker estimates a four-screen theatre would increase revenues three or four times.
    Dr. Pat Barker, Tim's father, along with Jim Carter purchased the Barron in 1988 from United Artists. It had been closed for some time. Renovations were made and the theatre reopened.
    Operating the Barron takes more than employees selling tickets, dispensing pop, candy and popcorn and running the projectors. During the last 25 years of operation, several have served as theatre manager and some have given of their time to make the Barron successful.
    Acting as theatre managers have been Jim Clark, Laurie Stroda, Colby Stull who was a "rock star" and brought an energy level like no one else. Carol Stull and now Kelli Barker round out the manager list.
    "These people are very special to us and we need to thank them," Barker said.
    Besides the managers, it took some dedicated individuals to help keep the 73 year old building functioning.
    The Barron would have shut down a long time ago if it hadn't been for Harold Windholtz who came in before sunrise to make repairs when seats were broken or some child ripped off an armrest.
    Wayne Veeder made it his task to clean the theatre every morning and Ron Detwiler fixed, for free, any mechanical or electrical problems.
    "These people, along with the managers have just been great," Barker said.

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