Strand Theatre, downtown Delaware's 'anchor,' works to stay afloat

PAUL COMSTOCK
editorial@thisweeknews.com
Noah McCloskey, 16, fills a large order of popcorn for a customer May 29 at the Strand Theatre, 28 E. Winter St. in downtown Delaware. The theater is offering curbside sales of popcorn and drinks from 4 to 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays as part of a fundraising effort to reopen the establishment, once permitted, after shutting down in response to state mandates during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic interrupted what essentially was a continuous run of operation that started in 1916 at the Strand Theatre, 28 E. Winter St.

Now the nonprofit, independent cinema has been gearing up for the reopening of Ohio movie houses.

A number of downtown Delaware merchants and others say they are eager to see that happen, describing the Strand as a downtown anchor that plays a role in helping other businesses and local nonprofits.

Gov. Mike DeWine announced June 4 that movie theaters could reopen Wednesday, June 10.

Strand managing director Tracey Peyton said the theater is “still looking at a July opening."

“We don’t have a date yet,” she said. “We have a lot to put in place. ... We’re just trying to make everyone safe.”

Although the Strand is ready to meet specific standards, Peyton said, the theater has been preparing for the types of requirements for sanitation and social distancing now in force at restaurants, supermarkets and other businesses.

“We’re in the process of writing an addendum to our handbook about washing hands, when to remove face masks, how often we sanitize high-touch areas, how often do we remove gloves, what we ask employees when we take their temperatures,” she said.

The Strand will have an extra worker on duty per five-hour shift, at least at first, Peyton said.

A staff member, volunteer or Strand board member will be on hand to monitor social distancing, she said.

The cinema will take extra time between movie showings for cleaning, Peyton said. A seating chart also will be added to its website, she said.

Though movie showings had stopped, the Strand hasn’t completely disappeared from visibility, she said.

The theater has been selling popcorn and other items at its concession stand from 4 to 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays to keep some income flowing and stay in touch with its fans, Peyton said.

One of those fans is Terri-Lynne Smiles, owner of the Greater Gouda, 12 N. Sandusky St.

“Having a theater in a local small town like this is part of the lifeblood of the community,” Smiles said. “They do so much for the community and have a wonderful vibrancy. It’s a real loss if they aren’t around.”

Before the pandemic, the Strand had a weekly Summer Kids Movies series. The admission was a cash or in-kind donation benefiting eight other local nonprofits, according to the theater’s website.

Another pre-COVID program was the Strand Sensory Series, providing closed captioning, increased lighting and assisted-listening devices for patrons on the autism spectrum or those living with other special needs.

The Summer Kids Movies created “a huge tick in traffic downtown on those days,” Smiles said. “We’d see a lot of people all the time who say they had come from the Strand or were going to the Strand.”

“We love the Strand,” said Todd Daughenbaugh, owner of Fresh Start Cafe and Bakery, 24 N. Sandusky St.

“We would see people come in and get a drink and wait for the movie time at the Strand. Strand patrons will make reservations for dinner before or after they go to the Strand,” he said. “There’s a lot of connection between the Strand and local businesses.”

As a nonprofit, Daughenbaugh said, “A healthy Strand makes for a healthier community, because they’ll be able to put back into the community.”

Joe Diamond is a member of the Strand board of directors, and his wife, Linda, has volunteered at the Strand. They operate Rosebud Properties leasing and rental.

Linda Diamond said a study conducted about two years ago showed a large percentage of Strand patrons also support other downtown businesses.

The Summer Kids Movies would attract 600 to 800 young viewers a day before the pandemic, Joe Diamond said.

“I absolutely love the summer children’s program,” Linda Diamond said.

Children are admitted even if they have nothing to donate, she said, and the donations that are collected “benefit the whole community in many ways, a wide variety of things,” she said.

“A lot of parents use (the summer program) as a teaching experience for kids,” Joe Diamond said.

Delaware City Schools Superintendent Heidi Kegley also is a fan of the children’s series.

“The Strand is a wonderful resource for our school district,” she said. “We look forward to partnering with them each summer for the free Summer Kids Movies. We are so grateful for all they do for our community.”

Another member of the Strand board of directors is Delaware City Manager Tom Homan.

The pandemic “is a trying time for movie theaters across the country, especially small theaters like the Strand that aren’t part of a franchise,” he said. “The Strand is an integral part of Delaware’s rich heritage.

“I’m so proud of the programs it provides to our community – not just first-run movies but an array of options, like the summer film program. Being a nonprofit, it provides so much else for the community.

“I can’t think of the downtown without thinking of the Strand,” Homan said.

Also in preparation for the reopening, Peyton said, the Strand board of directors has set a fundraising goal of $50,000 to purchase additional cleaning and personal protective equipment, maintain the three-screen theater’s ventilation system, beef up staffing for an escalated cleaning process and prepare for reduced capacity.

One phase focuses on reaching out directly to longtime donors and patrons.

A second phase is a GoFundMe campaign at tinyurl.com/stranddelaware. As of June 6, almost $8,000 of the campaign’s $50,000 goal had been met.

A third phase is the Big Give fundraiser that was scheduled by the Columbus Foundation on June 10 and 11. Funds donated will have the opportunity to receive matching money.

The Strand’s account may be viewed at tinyurl.com/strandfoundation.

Supporters also may donate at the Strand Theatre’s website.

Rock Jones, president of Ohio Wesleyan University and a Strand board member, said the Strand is “struggling valiantly” amid COVID-19.

“No one in Delaware wants to lose the Strand. This is the biggest threat the theater had experienced,” Jones said.

“The Strand is an extraordinary resource for the town of Delaware,” he said. “It’s one of the oldest continually operating theaters. It has historical value and is an anchor of downtown Delaware.”

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