For almost 15 years, the Lexington Venue has offered residents a local spot to come together and enjoy a movie on the big screen.
That could change next July, when the Venue’s current lease ends. “At the current level of business the lease will not be renewed,” Venue owner Peter Siy wrote in an email to LexObserver Tuesday.
The pandemic has taken a toll on many businesses in Lexington Center, from new business Anisoptera Mercantile to longtime Town toy store Catch a Falling Star. But the explosion of streaming services has created a singular set of challenges for movie theaters across the country as viewers and the film industry alike have embraced streaming.
At the Venue, “our yearly revenue is about a fraction of what it was before Covid, about 20% of pre-Covid sales,” Siy wrote. “We all turned to streaming for our entertainment (myself included).” In his view, “the pandemic has forever changed viewing habits.”
In the spring of 2020, Siy and Venue General Manager Ken Hastings launched a fundraiser to help fund “monthly rent, power and gas as well as other expenses including insurance.” In the past three weeks, more than 80 new donations flowed in, bringing the fundraiser total to $34,606 from almost 500 donations over two and a half years. Hastings and Siy are no longer accepting new donations to this fundraiser.
Erica Bouchard Rabins, the owner of six-month-old Center Goods, was among recent donors to the Venue’s fundraising campaign. “I donated to the Venue fundraiser because I’m a Lexington resident who really wants to keep the great businesses we have in the Center,” she wrote in an email. “And I’m also a local business owner who wants to support fellow businesses.”
On a personal level, “my favorite memories of the Venue are of renting it out for family birthdays,” she added. “The Venue is such a special highlight of the Center.”
David Manuel, another recent donor, agreed. “A movie theater is community,” he wrote in an email. “The traffic that a theater brings in the evening (minus the construction and the stupid pandemic) enriches our town.”
“It would be tragic if we lost the movie theater,” he wrote. “We probably wouldn’t get it back.”
Beyond donating to the fundraiser, Manuel rented the Venue to show the movie “Angels in the Outfield” for the baseball team he managed this year (the Angels).
Thanks to these donations, “we were able to continue to pay our utilities and maintenance throughout the mandated closure(s),” Siy wrote. “We are currently evaluating options going forward.”
Grant funding has also helped the Venue stay afloat during the pandemic. Siy credited a “life-saving” Shuttered Venue Operators Grant administered by the federal Small Business Administration. “Like most theaters, we would have closed permanently without this grant,” Siy wrote.
The Viano Family Trust owns the property housing the Venue. Robert Marcus Real Estate currently manages the property on behalf of the trust, according to Siy. LexObserver could not reach Robert Marcus Real Estate for comment on the potential closure by press time.
“Our many customers and the town government have been so supportive,” Siy wrote. Still, to have any shot at staying open, “simply put, we need folks to come in and see a movie, buy popcorn.”
Bouchard Rabins added that “Having successful, community-driven businesses in the Center encourages more people to open the kinds of places we all want to see here. But we have to commit to shopping at and supporting local businesses to strengthen our Center and our local economy.” Other local business owners have pointed to foot traffic as a key factor for business success in Lexington Center.
“We think we’ve enhanced the town over these many years,” Siy wrote. “Going forward I think the town will need to be creative in terms of the best use of the space.”