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Falls Theater will add second screen, look to boost local economy

The Falls Theater received a state grant for renovations, including adding a second screen. Owner Michelle Maher poses in front of the the theater. Bennett Ryynanen/Student Voice

February 21, 2018

In business for over 90 years, the Falls Theater is a destination for local moviegoers and anyone hoping to watch a first run movie at a historic site. Earlier this month, the theater in downtown River Falls received a sizeable grant from the state of Wisconsin for renovation and expansion. In addition to driving new traffic to the theater itself, the renovation is intended to further stimulate the local economy.

“It’s a plan to get people to interact with the downtown area and maybe with the student
population a little bit,” said Jason Rohloff, management analyst fellow at River Falls City Hall. He also provided more details on the specifics of the upcoming renovations.

The adjoining building to the south, formerly an insurance office, will become part of the
theater that accommodates a second screen. Additional bathrooms, lighting and sound
upgrades are also plans. The façade on the new space will be updated to match the existing

Renovations are also planned for other parts of the downtown area including electric and
lighting upgrades to the Riverwalk Alley. It’s all part of the effort to draw more foot traffic.

“Some of the restaurants and other businesses will see a larger impact,” Rohloff said. The
moviegoing foot traffic will benefit surrounding businesses before and after showtimes, but the intention is to make the area more appealing all around.

“We’ll continue to drive more traffic through Main Street,” said Michelle Maher, owner of Falls Theater. She’s no stranger to the impact that a movie theater has on a community. “It’s a big, important part of the local economy,” she added.

The second screen may be the most elaborate change to the theater, but Maher has tackled
other renovations in recent years. The exterior has required maintenance, and the original
ticket counter was previously covered. Unlike the upcoming changes, these were entirely out of Maher’s own budget. She recognizes how much of a destination her business is. “River Falls has benefited from the theater running all along,” she said.

Adding an auditorium does far more than just provide an extra choice for moviegoers, though. It expands the opportunities of the theater itself. Maher said that the renovations will be beneficial for a few reasons. Movie distribution companies prioritize multiplexes for highly anticipated movies, meaning local, single-screen operations like Falls Theater routinely get passed up. In fact, Maher had to keep in constant contact with distributors to fight for the chance to screen “IT” this past fall.

Two screens will also mean less juggling of movies during release weekends. Just last week, Maher had to accommodate the premiere of “Black Panther” while not neglecting the promising long-term potential of “Peter Rabbit.” After the upgrade, this will no longer be a concern. For local business owners and movie enthusiasts alike, the upcoming renovations promise to breathe new life into the downtown area.


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