Sun Theatre reopens post-pandemic

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After a hard hit from the COVID-19 pandemic, Sun Theatre resumed business on Oct. 22 for its showing of “James Bond: No Time to Die.”

When the theatre closed on March 8, 2020, due to COVID, it was the first time the theatre had been closed since its opening in 1947 (besides the annual day off on Christmas Eve).

During a tour of the facility, Dan Robitaille, the owner of the Sun Theatre, said the theatre’s outreach extends beyond the small town of Williamston. People from all over the country who have visited the one-screen theatre have extended a helping hand. Patrons have sent checks in the hopes of restoring the theatre back to normal.

“The Sun Theatre is a huge draw to our downtown area where people get dinner or shop before seeing a film,” said Corey Schmidt, Williamston city manager.

 For those who are local, families attend “treat night” where they purchase popcorn from the theatre’s concession stand. For most of the pandemic, the theatre survived off of concession profits and the tip jar that Robitaille described as an extremely generous amount of money.

“The theatre has been back up and running,” said Peter Porciello, Tax Increment Finance Authority Chair and Williamston resident. “With COVID, people are now doing what they are comfortable with while remaining cautious.”

Due to the theatre’s historical significance and the family-friendly atmosphere, it attracts not only local Williamston residents but approximately 60,000 people a year, said Robitaille. 

Infographic By Chloe Porfirio

During the re-opening, the theatre underwent multiple renovations. Due to the air conditioning that ran over the summer, there was a condensation problem. The chairs in the theatre began to develop mold along with the ceiling tiles.

“The tip jar was huge. The tip jar was my roof fund,” said Robitaille. “There were 150 wet ceiling tiles that were just an eyesore.”

 What was supposed to be a multi-thousand-dollar project ended up being almost entirely funded by the theatre’s concession tip jar?

The Future of Sun Theatre

The Sun Theatre features a historical 1940s facade.

Sun Theatre front including its historical 1940s facade.

Inspired by the movement #SaveYourCinema, Robitaille said his plans for the theatre in its long run. His upcoming project revolves around maintaining the original exterior facade that was created in the forties. 

“Our National Association of Theatre Owners, […] talks about them trying to lobby to save our theatres,” said Robitaille.

He spoke about the struggles they faced solely with applying for grants. On a local level, they went to apply for Ingham County grants that would be closed after a minute of just being posted. The owner spoke of his wife putting in 36 hours of work, decades of documents, just to receive grants that barely supported their needs.

However, the couple, who are second-generation owners to Dan Robitaille’s parents are very thankful for the constant outpouring of support from people across the country. They have even created gifts like coffee mugs, t-shirts, and sweaters that they send out to those who are missing their hometown.

Robitaille spoke of a 92 year-old-woman who has lived through five generations of family in Williamston and although she now lives in California, she continues to donate and reach out. 

In light of the theatre reopening, they were able to serve the family-friendly audience they have catered to for so long. On Nov. 2, the theatre hosted a children’s party that filled its seats with running children.

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