Historic Plaza Theatre | Photo by Grace Ramsdell | The Wright State Guardian
A spot well known for first dates and family movie nights, the Historic Plaza Theatre in downtown Miamisburg, OH has been entertaining its guests with popular motion pictures for over a century.
According to the website Box Office Mojo, the average price for a movie ticket in 2020 was $9.37. When the Weaver brothers opened the Plaza Theatre on Christmas Day 1919, each ticket cost a moviegoer just 22 cents.
At the time, the theatre featured a Wurlitzer organ and almost 700 seats. It was converted into the western retail store Sor-rell’s and remained in business until 2002, staying open until 1968 due to competition from the television.
After an extensive restoration, the theatre reopened Christmas Day 2015 with almost 300 seats, screening movies for guests from across the region ever since.
Challenges in the movie industry
According to executive director Emily von Stuckrad-Smolinski, a challenge for the business is caring for the century-old building it is housed in. The non-profit Plaza Theatre Association, which helped raise funds for the theatre’s restoration, is responsible for that care.
“We have faced floods, both in the basement and the roof along with multiple HVAC leaks,” Stuckrad-Smolinski said. “These repairs have been very costly, always unexpected and unavoidable, but we have always found a way to raise donations to fund the repairs.”
Closing on March 13, 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the business reopened three months later on June 11 with a showing of the 1940 film “The Philadelphia Story” and a slashed seating capacity of 100 people.
Donors who contributed to the theatre while it was closed received recognition on its 34-foot screen when the doors opened once again.
Due to the pandemic, the motion picture industry slowed to a standstill and left the Plaza Theatre with few options. They were only able to show classic films, but this obstacle gave them an advantage.
“Originally, in 2015, the theatre opened solely showing classics, so I was able to pull our records to see what historically had good numbers,” Stuckrad-Smolinski said.
From October to December, the Plaza Theatre shows holiday staples, and this line-up switches to Oscar-nominated flicks from January to March.
“There wasn’t much to choose from this year as it was already on VOD or the film didn’t draw a great crowd anyway,” Stuckrad-Smolinski said. “Still, life is getting back to normal slowly in our industry.”
A community business
According to Stuckrad-Smolinski, the staff at the theatre consists of one full-time employee, five part-time workers and around 75 volunteers.
“We are very much community-owned and community-run,” Stuckrad-Smolinski said. “When you come to the Plaza Theatre, it’s a place to meet friends, see neighbors and have a great time.”
One of those managers is Wright State University (WSU) student Shelby Prenger, who finds pleasure in her experiences working there.
“It’s definitely a darling of the community,” Prenger said. “Everyone from the volunteers to the patrons are super passionate about how it’s doing.”
The Plaza Theatre offers monthly live performances, which will resume when those productions can be booked, in addition to their film screenings. Currently, they sell tickets for normal screenings at $5 each and offer a $99 private rental special for any customer wishing to rent out the theatre.