Old Town Theater temporarily shuttered for overhaul

Old Town Theater temporarily shuttered for overhaul

By Derrick Perkins (Photo/Derrick Perkins)

Just nine months into the Old Town Theater’s much-anticipated second act, the curtains quietly have fallen again on the King Street landmark.

Owner Rob Kaufman put the nearly 100-year-old entertainment venue on hiatus September 30. The shutdown is temporary, he said, as they retool the programming and menu.

“We’re just getting fall and winter organized,” Kaufman said. “My feeling was let’s just stop and reorganize and then bring it back … the way I’d like to see it.”

The decision was made without any of the fanfare that accompanied the theater’s triumphant revival last December. But it does come after months of speculation in the community that the iconic venue was in dire straits once more.

Roger Fons sold the Old Town Theater, which he ran as a film house, to Rob Kaufman several years ago. Though Kaufman considered converting it to retail space, he eventually restored the building. (File Photo)

The theater has weathered ups and downs before, but came very close to shuttering for good in late 2011. Roger Fons, then the owner, sold it to Kaufman after a rocky nine-year stint at the film house’s helm.

Early on, Kaufman pondered converting it into retail space — a move that garnered national headlines and left residents bemoaning the historic theater’s demise. Since its inception in 1914, the theater has served alternatively as venue for vaudeville acts, silent films and later Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters.

But with encouragement from the community Kaufman embarked on a months long effort to restore the building to its original grandeur.

The local businessman unveiled the renovated and revamped theater to great acclaim nearly a year after he bought it. From then on, the 800 block venue hosted an eclectic mix of live acts and film screenings.

In the intervening months, though, the theater again fell on hard times. Kaufman diplomatically describes his short stint in the entertainment industry, but “the fact that I’m in there reorganizing kind of answers that question” about his experience thus far.

“We’re not getting a great deal of support from Alexandria and the question becomes can we? And the other question [is] have we had the right programming to entice Alexandrians to the theater? It’s not one answer, but maybe a little bit of both,” he said. “As much as I don’t have a history in the theater business, I understand Alexandria very well. I felt the venue was not hitting the target.”

The redesign also marks Kaufman’s split with operations manager Tom Kennedy. Kaufman brought Kennedy, who previously ran a standup comedy outfit, in to oversee the theater from the beginning.

Despite the shakeup and the venue’s struggles, Kaufman is committed to keeping it up and running. While keeping mum on potential changes, he said the intermission likely would last no longer than a few weeks.

“The initial decision to make this a retail store would have been much simpler, but simple is not always the answer either. I’m not disheartened. I’ve actually learned a lot over the last nine months,” Kaufman said. “I’m still committed to this project. I don’t give up very easily. I’m still very much engaged in getting this to be what I pictured it was going to be in the beginning.”