By ERIC SCHAADT
NORTH BALTIMORE — Is it “The Last Picture Show” for North Baltimore’s single-screen movie theater?
The owner of the Virginia Motion Pictures theater held a public forum Wednesday inside the downtown building to announce a fundraising campaign meant to save the movie house. The theater, at 119 N. Main St., has been shuttered since July 31.
Expensive upgrades to meet digital movie standards are a must for the 212-seat theater to survive, according to Doug Wickard.
“It’s going all digital,” Wickard told an audience of about 50 people.
The goal of the fundraiser is to collect $42,000 to obtain a used digital system to make the transition from the celluloid, reel-to-reel format.
An account to accept donations has been established at the North Baltimore branch of the Huntington Bank, he said.
“I’m pretty committed to it,” Wickard said of running the theater, adding he has not made “a dime” on the business in a year and a half. At the time of its closing, tickets sold for $4 each at the Virginia.
“It’s not a walk in the park like some people think it is,” he said.
Single-screen “mom and pop” theaters are facing tough times.
“Mom and pop theater is history, unless you have some wealthy person to back you,” Wickard said.
Audience members tossed out ideas Wednesday, including establishing a Friends of the Theater organization, using social media to generate awareness of the Virginia’s plight, and seeking donations from large companies.
Wickard said a survey a year ago indicated only 33 percent of the Virginia moviegoers were from North Baltimore, while 67 percent came from outside the community.
He said the fundraiser might last for five or six months to determine if the Virginia could reopen.
One audience member said she was “saddened” that there is no local theater now, particularly for the elderly and children.
She didn’t like the notion of taking her family to a movie outside North Baltimore and spending $100.
General consensus toward the end of the hourlong session was to hold another meeting in a month or so and bring in more ideas.
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