'It’s killing this theater': Coronavirus cripples family-owned business in Estes Park

historic park theater.JPG
Posted at 10:43 PM, Apr 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-01 01:04:04-04

ESTES PARK, Colo. — One of the oldest theaters in the nation calls Estes Park home, and now its future is muddled as a family scrambles to figure out if their business can survive the pandemic.

The Historic Park Theater was built in 1913. Sharon Seeley's parents took over the theater in 1965 and purchased it in 1982. The theater is 107 years old. It became part of the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

Historic Park Theater

Seeley is now 75 years old, but she still remembers bagging popcorn and serving up soda when she was just 5.

"My dad built a little concession," she said.

It's a tradition followed by her daughter Jenna MacGregor, and her granddaughter, Kyra MacGregor.

"Every seat in this theater is a good seat; there are no bad seats," Seeley said. "I remember when he had Jaws and we had E.T. We had lines around the block to get into the theater."

But now, a closed sign hangs outside, the doors are locked and all 224 seats sit empty.

"We don't know if the theater will come back or not," Seeley said. "It's heartbreaking."

"It's really hard when you have no income coming in, we don't know how we are going to make any money, and we have applied for every loan we can get; we've gotten nothing," Jenna MacGregor said.

MacGregor cried and hugged her daughter tight as tears streamed down her face as she reflected on the family history of the theater.

"It's so hard, we have been through fires, two floods and now a pandemic," MacGregor said. "Nobody wants anybody to be sick, you know, we all want everybody to be healthy; we just also know we want to survive too."

The family recently bought a second theater in Estes Park to eliminate the competition, which increases the fear.

Seeley also worries about the restrictions they will encounter when they reopen.

"They tell us we can only have ten people in here at a time," she said, that's not enough to pay the bills.

Production companies have pushed back movie release dates and Seeley isn't sure what movies will be offered by the film industry when she opens her doors. Its why the family is considering turning into an art house. Instead of mainstream movies, they will focus on independent films, bring in live music and host events to generate income.

There is a lot of uncertainty in the movie theater industry and many changes will be implemented. MacGregor plans to hand out masks at the entrance, provide hand sanitizer and close off seats to create a six-foot distance between moviegoers.

Seeley describes the experience as "painful" and can't imagine closing a theater she took over for her parents.

"It may kill me. My parents wanted to keep this open," Seeley said.