Facing uncertain future, Plaza Theatre to hold virtual tour

Atlanta’s oldest independent theater doing everything to “buy some more time;” will host a “virtual tour” on May 7

The last couple weeks mark the longest period of time that the city’s oldest independent movie theater has ever been closed.

For more than 80 years, the Plaza Theatre on Ponce has been a constant in Atlanta's art scene. But like all small businesses, the coronavirus outbreak has presented the Plaza with various challenges and hard decisions recently.

Christopher Escobar, who has owned the historic theater since 2017, tried to keep the doors open for as long as possible. First, they limited the number of guests in each screening. But then, at the end of March, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ executive order meant they would have to shut the doors for the foreseeable future.

And while Escobar understands the public health crisis at hand, he also notes that owning and operating an independent movie theater in 2020 presents a variety of challenges in the best of times. Now, he’s not sure what the future holds, both in the next couple months and in the long-term. But Escobar is hopeful.

“It's a scary prospect,” he said. “And obviously, no one knows what's gonna happen with the virus. But I will say I am really, really encouraged by the support from the public.”

And like a lot of business owners, he is getting creative. For now, Escobar has kept all his eight employees on payroll, which he says is his No. 1 priority and he feels like differentiates him for corporate-owned theaters.

He considers his business to be more than a bottom line, for him it’s about shepherding an Atlanta institution through a trying time.

And so far, the support he has felt from the community gives him reason to be optimistic.

“I know that our model works, because we've been able to do such a good job,” he said. “So I know we have the ability to make this work as long as we have the opportunity to do it.”

As he pivots to looking for new ways to keep revenue and interest alive, he has rolled out a number of options.

"Sorry we're closed, but never let the dream of The Plaza die!," a post on the theater's website reads, with options for how to support them, including a GoFundMe page, which has raised more than $7,400.

The theater also teamed up with Atlanta R Land who designed a custom T-Shirt, which have since sold out. On the weekends, they sell to-go beer and wine that they had in stock, which Bottoms’ order allows local businesses to do for the time being.

Fans of the Plaza can also buy vouchers for future movies — at a date that’s unknown to everyone.

Anything to “buy some more time,” Escobar said.

Virtual tour to be held

In addition to new streams of revenue, Escobar is finding digital ways to keep the community aspect of the Plaza alive. That includes a private Facebook page called the Plaza Movie Club, which people will be invited to if they donate to the theater’s fundraising efforts. The page will feature “live movie nights,” including an upcoming showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show.

And on May 7, Escobar will host a free "virtual tour" of the Theater in partnership with the Atlanta Preservation Center. Last week, the center hosted a similar event that took folks on a virtual trip inside Atlanta's Healey Building.

APC’s Director of Operations, David Mitchell said the events are a chance to bring historic Atlanta to people sheltering at home.

"We want each one of these partners to really have autonomy over this thing because we want the people watching this to really understand how important and unique Atlanta culture is and this is really a great way to bring it to them," Mitchell said of the center's online events, which is serving as a replacement of sorts to the annual Phoenix Flies programming that was canceled due to the virus.

Escobar said the virtual tour of the Plaza — which will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 7 — will actually allow folks to see some parts of the building they aren’t usually able to, that includes backstage areas, the projection booth and the view from the rooftop.

Mitchell hopes the tour will be an opportunity for the Plaza to shine, even while temporarily closed.

“It's very important to me that we do everything in our power to really create the atmosphere that when this settles, that this space can re-emerge and be totally and utterly appreciated it for what it is, which is a piece of Atlanta,” Mitchell said.

Registration for the event can be found here.


Virtual tour of the Plaza
7-8:30 p.m., Thursday, May 7