By Renee Lorenz Special to Published Aug 29, 2012 at 9:02 AM

It's been six months since the Rosebud and Times Cinemas closed their doors.

Luckily, they haven't spent much time in the dark since then.

After a little hand-changing and some minor revamping, the Rosebud is set to open this Friday. And, much like the second half of a classic double feature, The Times will soon follow.

"I'm a real believer that neighborhood theaters – much like neighborhood restaurants and other types of more local institutions – really help identify a neighborhood and make it what it is," said Lee Barczak, who purchased both theaters in a foreclosure auction back in May. "To be able to help some of those sorts of institutions survive as thriving businesses is just a real exciting thing for me."

Barczak, who also owns the old Avalon Theater in Bay View, set out to keep much of the Rosebud's nostalgia intact.

"Everything people enjoyed before, we certainly want them to come back and say, 'Oh wow, it's definitely here.' The good things that were there, we love," said Barczak.

Part of preserving the past quality of the Rosebud included bringing back as many of the theater's past staff members as possible, including film buyer Larry Widen.

"If you liked us before, you're going to love us going forward," said Widen. "Programming-wise, I think we're just going to continue with the good things that we did, and then just build on that. I don't want to go away from any of the fun stuff that we were able to do here."

The Rosebud will continue to screen first-run films (like its opening-week run of "The Bourne Legacy"), as well as special events like free screenings of Green Bay games and showings of unique indie flicks, including the upcoming run of "WaterWalk" Sept. 7-9.

"I'm always looking to do an exclusive. If I see something that's good out there and I think it's the kind of thing that we can have to ourselves, I'm going to go for it," said Widen. "Anytime we can get a hold of something that is quality, I'm going to look at that."

As much as things are going to stay the same at the Rosebud (including the sofa seating and real-butter popcorn), Barczak is also committed to going above and beyond what was good at the theater.

"The selection of some of the foods and beverages are going to be new and improved," he explained. "We're working on different versions of things, so whether it be a pizza or a sandwich or something that you order, you'll really be happy you ordered it and not just go, 'Well, you know, that was OK.'

"Likewise, we're working hard to make sure the selection of wines, beers and cocktails that we offer will be just as much fun for a person eligible to drink those as the popcorn and soda are for the people that are not."

The improvements won't stop once the doors are open, either.

"We want to just keep upgrading the quality of the experience," said Barczak. "We've got new exterior signage coming, and I think people will be excited about that.

"We've got some other things planned. Those are just sort of in the works, but I can tell you I think people will be real excited to see that there's something new and different than anything else that's occurring – that I know of – in any other theater in Wisconsin."

On top of the new and exciting things in store for the Rosebud (built in 1931), the future also holds a reopening for the Times Cinema (opened in 1935) that will follow in very similar footsteps to its sister theater.

"That's our game plan – open by the end of September," said Barczak.

The Times' plan will also include much of what theater-goers have come to expect from the eclectic venue. The classics, family features, cult showings and live stage shows are all scheduled to return.

"I'm excited about that because I felt like we were really just getting some traction back in November and December and early this year," said Widen. "It felt like sometimes we had a four-screen theater in there because we were doing so much multi-track programming."

Once the Rosebud and Times – which in 1940 became the first Marcus Theaters in the Milwaukee area – are running at full steam, Barczak also hopes to finally get underway with the renovation of Bay View's much-discussed Avalon.

"We've been getting contacts going with different architectural and construction firms," he said. "We're going to reopen those plans and decide which parts we can do and how we can make that an equally wonderful experience for everybody in Milwaukee – especially those over in the Bay View area.

"We want that to be every bit as much as these theaters are, and probably quite a bit more."

The Avalon will require a complete list of large-scale renovations, including electrical, plumbing and other system upgrades, on top of basics like projection equipment.

"The magnitude of that project, the size and scope of that whole theater, it's obviously much bigger – one of the old palaces compared to the Rosebud and Times," said Barczak.

"I understand the average consumer doesn't really understand what that difference means, but it's huge – especially considering the fact that the economy has gone through the difficult times that it has. But, we never gave up and we're still not giving up."

With concrete plans in place for the Avalon (Barczak hopes to have it reopened by the end of 2013 or early 2014) and the Rosebud and soon-to-be-open Times reinstated to their positions as movie landmarks, the theaters' management is optimistic for the future of neighborhood cinema.

"These are little jewels in your backyard," said Widen. "A lot of people know that, and there are still people out there that have yet to discover us, so we're looking forward to having them join us and get to know us."

Renee Lorenz Special to

Contrary to her natural state of being, Renee Lorenz is a total optimist when it comes to Milwaukee. Since beginning her career with, her occasional forays into the awesomeness that is the Brew City have turned into an overwhelming desire to discover anything and everything that's new, fun or just ... "different."

Expect her random musings to cover both the new and "new-to-her" aspects of Miltown goings-on, in addition to periodically straying completely off-topic, which usually manifests itself in the form of an obscure movie reference.