By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Jan 11, 2014 at 9:08 AM

In 1991, JoEllen Weathers’ family purchased the Palace Theater in Spooner. Weathers was 9 years old at the time.  

"I started by helping mom and dad clean the theaters after the shows and gradually worked my way up to running the theater in 2005 after I graduated college," says Weathers. "I have literally grown up at the Palace and have loved every minute I have spent here."

Now, the Palace needs to raise funds to convert one – if not both – of the screens to digital cinema.

Hence, Weathers started a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of $60,000 which will allow the family to purchase much-needed equipment like a digital projector, audio system, a server to download film content and lenses. The money would also cover the cost of installation.

"The Palace does a great job of supporting itself, it just can't afford the very heavy price tag it will cost of the equipment," she says. "If we raise the $60,000 we can convert the one screen, stay open and try to save up to convert the second screen. If we raise any money beyond $60,000 we will use it towards converting our second auditorium to digital cinema."

Weathers first heard about Kickstarter when actor Zach Braff used it to fund his latest film project.

"I thought it was a really cool platform because it allows me the opportunity to give back to those who give so generously to us," says Weathers. "I am really confident we can meet our goal."

The campaign runs through March 7. About $11,500 has been raised so far. Weathers says she is grateful for all of the support so far, both through donations as well as those who shared their time and skills.

"I had a lot of great help from a local couple who filmed the video for our site and have given me a lot of help with ideas for rewards and gave me a greater understanding of how Kickstarter works," says Weathers.

The theater is a major piece of the Spooner community’s entertainment culture. Spooner – located just under five hours north of Milwaukee –  is a very small town and has only a handful of places where families can go to spend time with one another.

"If the Palace closes it will be that much harder for people to find things to do outside of the home," she says.

Weathers has lived in Spooner since ’91 except for the years she spent attending college in River Falls. During that time, she still worked at the theater on weekends and during the summer.

"There are a lot of great folks in this town, many of whom I have grown close with over the years by them coming to the theater. I even have some of their orders memorized," she says.

The Palace Theater was built in 1939. Originally, it had just one screen but was split into two theaters in the '80s. It still has much of the original art deco furnishings and the lobby is adorned with classic studio stills of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen and Humphrey Bogart.

"We, of course, have had to update it occasionally over the years, but we have tried very hard to maintain the feel of an era gone by," says Weathers.

For example, when the theater needed new entrance doors, instead of buying new factory-made doors, Weathers’ dad, Glen Clayton, made the doors himself.

"He did his best to make them look as good if not better than the originals," she says.

The Palace Theater also has a dark but intriguing bit of history. Before Weathers’ parents bought the theater, it was owned by Sheldon Kliman. Kliman was murdered at the entrance to the largest theater and to this day, the murder is unsolved. Consequently, the case has brought a few paranormal investigators to the theater over the years.  

"I have worked many late nights and have yet to spot any ghosts," says Weathers.

The Palace is a first-run theater that generally screens one PG-13 or R rated film and one family movie. The Palace runs free holiday matinees every Saturday from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

"On the final Saturday, Santa comes by to take pictures with the kids. It’s so much fun," says Weathers.

Weathers says that, in general, she believes that movies and movie theaters are important to the life blood of a community. This is the main reason she wants to keep The Palace operational in her town for many years to come.

"It’s where you go on date night and where families go on Saturday afternoons," says Weathers. "Movies allow us a great chance to escape and visit a world beyond our imaginations."

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.