The Norwalk Theatre is, once again, for sale.
Less than four months after the theater at 57 E Main St. was bought by Steve and Teresa LaFountain, the Norwalk Theatre has appeared on eBay. Under the previous ownership of the Towne & Country Players, the theater was offered for sale since the mid-90s.
"Just because it's for sale," Teresa LaFountain said, "doesn't mean we're going to drop the ball." In fact, events are already planned through June. The theater will not be closing they can't afford to close it, LaFountain said.
The new owners are finding it difficult to get their business off the ground. Several events have been canceled because of a lack of ticket sales, including a New Year's Eve party and the Chris Adams gospel concert.
They've had difficulty putting the puzzle together, she said. She believes the theater can do just fine, but a local person would find it a lot easier to know what people really want.
They have been hoping to find a local person to manage the theater for them. But after hiring two managers, Teresa LaFountain is still doing it all herself from her home in Kalamazoo, Mich.
First, Jeff and Jennifer Gruden of Norwalk were hired to manage the theater. They left for unspecified reasons. The second manager left after her other part-time job offered her a full-time position, LaFountain said.
The effort of running the theater long-distance with only a projectionist to run the box office three days a week is affecting their other business, a movie theater in Kalamazoo.
Adding to their troubles, rumors are also rife in the community that the historic theater is being stripped. "Everything in the building is worth money," said Ronn Koerper, executive director of Towne & Country.
The original lighting fixtures have disappeared from the lobby and the organ is offered for sale on CinemaTreasures.com. The lights were "broken" and "crumbling" LaFountain said, but they're still in the building. The organ that's just another way they're trying to keep the business going.
People don't realize how expensive it is to run a place like that, LaFountain said. It has led them to try to create other revenue streams. They've sold light bulbs in the marquee for either $100, $500, or $1,000. Buyers get mentions and ads in the program, and plaques in the lobby, depending on what they pay.
They've sold 10, but it has raised some hackles among people who don't think a for-profit business should be seeking donations. LaFountain says it's not donations. It's advertising.
"At least we're trying to put things on in the theater," LaFountain said. People think just because you're for-profit, you're greedy. But people donated to the old owners, who were non-profit but took salaries, and they produced maybe one performance every three months.
Also, if these people want the organ to stay in the theater, they need to buy tickets and support the venue.
There are encouraging signs on that front. They've already sold a couple hundred tickets for the Country Music Showcase March 17 and the Evening of Chocolate March 27. Also they've had people who've never heard of Gene Watson and the Uptown Country Band write in to buy tickets for March 23 just because they enjoyed the Chris Berry concert so much.
They realize it takes time to build an audience and they hope that people will come and enjoy themselves and meet the LaFountains and then come back.
The minimum bid for the theater is $250,000. While the LaFountains will not disclose what they paid for the theater, the mortgage on the property is $202,500. "We're breaking even," LaFountain said. They hope the theater will move more quickly than it did before because their asking price is at least six figures lower and because of "other factors."
A full listing of upcoming events can be found atwww.norwalktheatre.com.