Cloverdale’s Clover Theater, which has been shuttered in some form since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, is preparing to reopen this fall.
Since it was announced that theaters could reopen for indoor entertainment, owners Kathryn and Ryan Hecht have fielded countless inquiries about when the community movie hub would dust off its projectors.
“People of all ages have come up to me over the past four or five months as things have started to reopen and have been clamoring to get back to the theater,” Ryan Hecht said.
The golden ticket to the reopening was funds from the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant.
With no official opening date yet, Hecht said that they’re aiming to reopen the theater in early fall to allow time to head in with a plan.
“We really want to do it right, have a real plan and be able to do some improvements to the theater that we’ve been wanting to do since the before-times,” he said. “We want it to be a really nice reopening rather than just a rushed ‘Let’s try to get open as fast as possible’ kind of a thing.”
Reopening, especially in the middle of a spike in virus cases, poses some unknowns.
“Are we going to shut down again? Hopefully we won’t, but there is that threat (of) the Delta variant,” Hecht said. “And that’s what we want to avoid — we don’t want to get everybody’s hopes up, get our hopes up and reopen the theater too quickly. Hopefully that won’t happen, and we’re going forward assuming that’s not going to happen.”
The theater has been closed without people in it for a year and a half, and Hecht said a good portion of the reopening work involves deep cleaning and checking out and recalibrating equipment.
“It’s sort of reminiscent of when we first opened in 2013, because it hadn’t been closed this long but it had been closed for awhile,” he said.
One of the more notable improvements that the Hechts have set out to make before the theater reopens is refurbishing the theater’s marquee, something they’ve wanted to do since they first took over ownership.
But refurbishing an old, neon sign is expensive, so in mid-July, the Hechts launched a GoFundMe page with a goal of raising $35,000 to go toward the improvement. In addition to the $18,128 that’s been raised as of Aug. 11, the ask was met with a $10,000 match from an anonymous donor.
“We thought that this would be a perfect opportunity to get the community involved. Not everybody goes to the movies, but this is a project that, even if you don’t go to the movies, it’s going to improve the look of the town and the look of First Street. It’s a great marquee, it just needs some TLC,” he said.
A community hub in Cloverdale
Like many mom-and-pop businesses in small towns, The Clover serves as one of Cloverdale’s community hubs. When it was open, Cloverdalians could stop by on Wednesday’s for trivia night. Even for a while after it closed for the pandemic, people could come by to get their movie theater popcorn fix.
“One of the things that makes The Clover Theater, and Cloverdale, special is the community,” Hecht said.
“(A movie theater is) a rare thing and it’s a really cool thing to have in this small town. I think it is a sense of pride for the town and it is a community center.”
Since the Hechts bought The Clover in 2013, they’ve seen people grow up at the theater.
“When we opened they went to see their first movie and now they’ve in high school or they’re going to college or we’ve hired them. There is a sense of community — we know so many of the people who come to the theater and they know us,” he said.
The art of the movie theater
The Clover is the only theater between Windsor and the northern edge of Sonoma County, following the September 2020 closure of Healdsburg’s Raven Film Center.
Hecht said that while the pandemic has accelerated the inevitable — more films being released online through streaming platforms — there’s still a place for small, hometown theaters like The Clover.
“Streaming is becoming easier, the technology is better, everybody's TVs are huge. It makes a lot of sense to rent a movie at home, watch it at home and make your own popcorn,” he said. “On the other hand, what this pandemic has shown, at least to me, is that people want to gather and people want to have an experience outside of their home.”
“I think people want to get out and want to have that experience. I think that is always going to be the case — there’s always going to be live theater, there’s always going to be concerts, there’s always going to be movie theaters,” Hecht said, likening film to the resurgence of records and record stores.
If anything, he said the accelerated need for movie theaters to adjust to the current market might pave the way for new opportunities for theaters to branch out into showing sporting events or TV series. Pre-pandemic, The Clover had already partnered with Fathom Events to bring certain cinematic experiences to Cloverdale, like showings of “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” Broadway shows, anniversary showings of films and more.
“I think at the end of the day, people will always want to go see movies in the movie theater,” he said.
For Hecht, the bright light at the end of reopening the theater is being able to connect with people over watching movies and being able to return to the day-to-day duties of keeping up with films, changing out posters and the like.
“We moved from New York to reopen this movie theater, and it’s been great. We’ve been so lucky that we landed in this place and are able to do this business that’s so much fun. When I think about reopening, I think about how great it’s going to be to sell people tickets and popcorn. I just love the actual product that we have. I love watching movies and I love people watching movies,” Hecht said.