MONTE VISTA – The demise of Colorado's small town movie theaters has been a lingering threat. Nationwide, rural cinemas are disappearing at an incredible rate due to the cost of conversion.
According to the National Association of Theatre Owners, there are 5,762 theaters in the United States. Most of them (87 percent) have converted to newly needed digital equipment. But 13 percent, a majority of which are in small, rural communities, simply can't afford it.
It's tough to tell how many businesses have closed in Monte Vista over the years. When you drive down Adams Street you'll notice a similar sign hanging from the windows of most storefronts: For Sale.
The Vali 3 Theater almost faced that threat recently when its owner was handed a bill to keep his cinema alive. Like most small town movie theaters the Vali 3 needed to phase out its old projectors and purchase new digital equipment.
"I don't really want to close it," said George Kelloff Jr., who owned the cinema. "We're going to board up the windows in a town that's already struggling?"
The bill hovered around $100,000. Kelloff struggled with the decision but ultimately came up with a unique idea. He decided to give his cinema away to the community of Monte Vista for free.
"It's yours. This is your town. You know you can go to Alamosa, Durango, Pueblo, Denver, but those aren't yours. This is yours. This is your town. Your theater," Kelloff said.
The gesture was kind, no doubt. But now community members in Monte Vista were left with the task of raising $100,000.
"It's very costly," said Unita Vance, a community member.
Vance and many other Monte Vista residents created a group called 'Friends of the Vali 3 Theater'. The group meets each Tuesday to discuss ways to raise the money.
They've already raised $20,000 by way of community-wide fundraisers. On top of that, the group is also going to receive a $20,000 grant geared at helping small-town theaters purchase digital equipment.
"We would really like to get this back up and running to give our youth and adults something to do," Vance said.
The Colorado Office of Film, Television & Media has been helping small, rural communities save their local movie theaters. So far, the office has helped 13 Colorado cinemas acquire grant money to assist with their efforts.
'Friends of the Vali 3' is hoping to raise the money by December, that way they can have the theater up and running by Dec. 6.
The plan is to have the cinema opened on weekends. Tickets will only cost $5.
The City of Monte Vista already agreed to take care of utility and maintenance costs. All the volunteers have to worry about is the digital equipment.
"I think by doing this theater and re-opening it on a volunteer basis, it gives everybody in the community something to look forward to," Vance added.
Several donation sites have been setup for the Cinema. Follow the links below:
9NEWS Storytellers Kevin Torres and Enrico Meyer will have more on this story on 9NEWS at 4 p.m. Thursday.
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