News — 19 July 2007
Projectors roll again at Old Town Theater

After months of going back and forth with city officials, the projectors are rolling once again at the Old Town Theater on King Street, complete with food, drink, air conditioning, lighting and fire safety measures in place.

It has been a rocky road for the theater owners and city code enforcement officials, who wrangled on the issues for a few years, closing the theater down at one point. The theater finally reopened after a last-minute temporary certificate of occupancy was issued the afternoon of Thursday, June 28, hours before a premiere party featuring live music and a short film.

There were quite a number of them [code violations]; he was able to bring them into compliance, said Jannine Pennell, the citys deputy director of code enforcement, speaking of the theaters owner.

In November 2006, the city issued a list of violations that included stairway and aisle illumination; properly securing and supporting raceways, cables, assemblies, boxes, cabinets and fittings; adjusting the ceiling height; improper storage; smoke detectors; and exhaust systems in the kitchen.

Roger Fons, who owns the theater with Klaus Keckeisen, worked with contractors and suppliers to fix almost everything, but some of the work was without work permits, inciting more violations and fines. There are still five minor items left to be done, and they are listed on the certificate.

Ill be done by the end of the month for most of it, Fons said.

Pennell said he doesnt have to complete everything on the list immediately, but they wont keep issuing the temporary certificates forever. Eventually, it will have to get done, she said.

Get er done
Fons is working with an old theater, dating back to 1914, and this adds to the difficulty in getting everything to city code. In addition, Fons built a second-level theater with a retractable screen and added food and alcohol service for the patrons, which brought more rules to adhere to, including Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control rules. Fons isnt concerned though. He has made it this far and is determined to get the job done.

I have a passion for finishing what I start. Failure is not in my dictionary, he said.

Keckeisen is also the chef, perfecting the menu in the kitchen. He has a German background and 30 years experience as a chef. Before getting into the theater business, he owned the Bistro Europa restaurant a block away from the theater.

The food, atmosphere and location of the theater is a formula he likes.

alkability and down-to-earth approach are factors that will attract customers, Keckeisen believes.

Were very unique in our approach, its something different, he said.
Out on the street, moviegoers like the old theater and look forward to seeing movies there. Arlington resident Julie Haller had been to the theater years ago. Its really cool, I loved it, it was a huge screen, she said.

Rich Driscoll of Alexandria was happy to see they have first-run movies.

The theater is located in the 800 block of King Street, which is away from the waterfront area and much of the pedestrian traffic. Bryan White, bartender at the Flying Fish a few doors down, did notice a bigger crowd when movies were playing.

When The Da Vinci Code opened, there was a lot of people, he said.

Katrina Reynolds works around the corner. I like older theaters, it brings back the old town, she said.

Alexandria resident Jelks Cabaniss said he likes the old theater, too. Its good to see them back open, its a historic place. Jim Morrison hung out here, he said.

Its not only the locals though. Our best customers are those who came from other states, they know the value of an old theater, Fons said.

Everybody wasnt happy though. For some reason, when the theater was open through the years, business at the Gourmet Center and Deli next door wasnt as good.

Each time they run this theater, my business goes down. As soon as they shut down, my business picked up, said deli owner Samba Barrie, who has been there for 20 years.

 

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