Fairfield’s Co-Ed Theatre Closes After 102 Years | Who Will Bring It Back?

Fairfield’s Co-Ed Theatre is now closed, 102 years after it first opened.

It’s the end of the road for Fairfield’s Co-Ed Theatre, after operators Big Time Cinema filed for Chapter 13 bankrupty on August 31. Or perhaps it’s the beginning of a new era in which Fairfield has its own locally owned movie theater. The Iowa Source spoke with the owner of the Co-Ed building, real estate developer Chris Johnson, about the future of the Co-Ed.

Iowa Source: Chris, what happened with the Co-Ed? It closed so suddenly, with no advance warning.

Chris Johnson: It has to do with the bigger picture of what’s going on in the movie industry. In general, it just isn’t drawing audiences nearly as well, because of the economy. And it’s like everything else, whether it’s utilities or health care or movies: there’s so much taken out from the top that it’s become so expensive. By the time the product hits the local markets, it’s very problematic whether it can work financially.

Even most of the multiplexes are not doing well now. And when comes down to local theaters like this, there’s no interest. Ten years ago, there was lots of interest from other chains coming to Fairfield. Now there’s no interest because the business has changed so much.

What’s happening in a lot of little towns like Mount Pleasant, Washington, Bloomfield, and other towns all over Iowa and the Midwest, is that in order maintain their own movie theater, basically they’re taking it over and underwriting it. People recognize the social and cultural importance of having a movie theater in a small town. So we’re trying to gather more information, but that’s what we’re hoping will happen here.

Another problem for the whole industry is that everything is converting to digitital, and the cost per screen to convert is $70,000.

It’s hard to recoup that.

Yes, but when you look at the impact it has on so many people, from kids going to matinees to all the other interesting stuff we could do in terms of independent films and documentaries, I think it’s a good investmentment. With upgrading, it would be a nice community asset. So we’re hoping we can save one screen, and we could switch movies every night or two. We’re non-profit, so we’ll  have to see if there’s enough support to do it on that basis.

Based on all the comments on our Facebook page, I think there’s a lot of interest. People are devasted. It’s an important part of the cultural life of any town to have a movie theater.

The interesting thing is, all over the country, beginning 30 to 40 years ago, three-quarters of the old-time theaters closed once the multiplexes opened, compounded by the advent of HBO, VHS, DVDs, and so forth. But now what’s happening in suburban towns and neighborhoods, the old theaters are still there. People are spending millions and millions of dollars to reacquire and renovate them because of the recognition of how valuable these theaters are to the community.

What I always notice at a multiplex is that there’s no interaction of the people going there. But in these little theaters like Fairfield’s, it’s completely personal. And in Fairfield, such great things could be done with the film connections we have—it’s kind of an endless list for films, seminars, director interactions…

So I’m optimistic, but I’m also realistic that it’s going to take some resources to do this. From our side, we’ll do what we can, but with just a few people, we could probably do this.

Reach Chris Johnson at 641-469-1919 or mandala6@lisco.com.