Today was a day of mourning for Milwaukee moviegoers. When news broke that The Times and Rosebud cinemas would close their doors at the end of the month, it spread quickly. Remorse, questions, pleas and calls to action soon flooded the theaters' respective Facebook pages, clearly illustrating the impact these independent movie houses had on their fans.
Unfortunately, business is business, as co-owner Larry Widen put it, and no eleventh-hour fundraiser is going to bring these two pieces of Milwaukee cinema history back from foreclosure. They'll finish off the weekend quietly, the theaters will go dark for good, and that - tragically - will be that.
"The bank has chosen not to work with us anymore, and we've been asked to leave," said Widen. "We're going to try to get through the weekend as best we can and hold our heads up and not really talk about it too much with the customers other than to say, 'Yeah, it is too bad.'"
The two theaters have suffered at the hands of many things, chief among them economic downturns and the struggles of keeping a single-screen theater viable in a big-screen-focused environment.
"These last couple of years have been tough economic times, and we've just been fighting valiantly, David (Glazer) in particular," said Widen. "We really tried our best. We can't get these (theaters) back.
"I don't know that we would be in this position today if we had been able to put on the extra screens that we were looking to do. The single-screen theaters are very, very hard in this market to run. As quaint as the Times and the Rosebud are, as much emotion as people have for them, at the end of the day, people want choice. It prevented us from becoming stronger financially so we could have warded off what's happening now."
There's no mistaking the sorrow expressed by the Times' and Rosebud's many devotees. Talking with Widen, who has made his work at the theaters a labor of love since 2007, the sadness and frustration is even more evident.
"A 'shame' is too light of a word. It's an absolute travesty. I really don't know what the new owners or lessors have in mind here. I don't know if these are still going to be theaters. Your guess is as good as mine."
The hurt runs deep for those close to the theaters, who share memories of everything from live events to the resurrected Cult Film Creepshow, and who now must say goodbye to the iconic buildings that gave them a home. For Widen, a cinemaphile in his own right, losing the opportunity to have a local screen so dedicated to classic films is the hardest blow.
"I think that's going to disappear; I don't know if anyone's going to pick that up again," he said. "I don't see anybody putting the kind of energy, research and heart that we put into the stuff that we did at the Times."
That overall dedication, I think, is the greatest loss Milwaukee film will have to suffer.
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