Couple raising money to restore Hamilton's historic movie theater

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Posted at 9:30 AM, Feb 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-21 11:30:00-05

HAMILTON - The Roxy Theater was built in 1935 and has been a community treasure ever since.

Sadly, the theater closed in 2012, leaving the town without its movie theater.

Now, after being closed for the past 10 years, it may reopen its doors this summer.

A young couple who grew up in the valley bought the theater last year and plans to give the community its treasure back.

Matthew Powell and his wife, Jaylyn, decided to buy the old building as a space to host their axe-throwing company, Sticks and Stones Axe Throwing.

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Matthew Powell gets ready to throw an axe at a projection of candy crush on Thursday, Feb. 16. His axe throwing company, Sticks and Stones, has lots of games like this one to make the axe throwing experience more unique.

They have converted the front room of the theater house into a functioning axe-throwing space, equipped with projection games and tables.

Since buying the building, however, they haven't been able to forget about the second theater room, which still contained movie seats and a large screen.

They started to be inspired by the thought of restoring the old Roxy Theater and found that the community was inspired by the thought as well.

“Customers that come for axe throwing, people just walking by, everybody is just asking for the movie theater," Jaylyn says.

Folks were willing to help the couple reach their goal of reopening the theater, according to Matthew.

"One of the first questions, after we go over the axe throwing part with them is ‘is the theater still here?’ you know? ‘what about the theater?’ and we say yeah we’re working on getting it open and they immediately go ‘oh my gosh, can I help?" he said.

The town's only other movie theater, Pharoplex, closed a couple years ago, so the Hamilton locals have to drive at least an hour to Missoula to see a movie in theaters.

The town is missing that family-friendly entertainment.

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The insulation in the theater room at the Roxy is falling through the suspended ceiling, something that would have to be completely redone before opening the theater again.

"People are really missing some indoor entertainment," Jaylyn says.

Jaylyn also points out that having more activities to do in town, encourages people to spend their money locally, rather than spend it in Missoula or other larger cities in the area.

The renovated Roxy Theater would be very unique because it would house both axe-throwing and movie premiers.

After hearing the interest from the community, the Powells began to speak with contractors and even started on some of the renovations themselves.

They have partnered with Beck Builders in Hamilton to complete the project.

The old building, of course, came with some baggage.

The ceiling in the theater room was collapsing in on itself, as a result of poor insulation and too much weight on the suspended ceiling.

“All the suspended ceiling is bowing from the weight of the insulation, and some of them have failed," Paul Beck, owner of Beck Builders, said. "Obviously they’ve dropped, so there’s insulation on the floor. We can't have that, it's not safe. So we have to pull all of that out, put in a new suspended ceiling, and then put the insulation in properly."

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In addition to the insulation issues, parts of the ceiling have also succumbed to water damage.

Another big ticket item is a new projector.

Thankfully, the couple has a relationship with the old Pharoplex and is able to purchase their projector for $35,000. A great deal, as far as projectors go, but still a large expense.

The other more expensive addition is a kitchen.

In order to sell concessions, like popcorn or pretzels, the space has to have a functioning kitchen, according to Matthew.

“Kitchens are a challenge," Beck says. "We have to find the pipe, work with the pipe, in very old crawl spaces. Plumbing, Electrical, we have brick, we have all these old things that we have to work around.”

Beck says renovations will take at least three months, but he is more than excited to be on board with the project.

"It's a historical building... I think it's really important to bring back a little bit of that nostalgic feel," he said.

Jaylyn (left) and Matthew (right) Powell are young business owners who are determined to restore the Roxy Theater in Hamilton. They have already put lots of time and money into the project. "We don't have kids, so this is kind of become our kid," Matthew says about the building.

And Beck has his own nostalgia with the Roxy.

“I have a really great memory of Star Wars, I think it was the first episode one, we stood all the way down, we were a block down the road, down second street here. it was before any other theaters were in town. So that was a really great memory for me.”

Matthew and Jaylyn are only 20 years old, but they are determined to make the restoration happen.

“They are super energized, they are young, they’re entrepreneurs, they’re super hard workers," Beck says. "I latched onto their excitement, and I want to help them make it happen."

To ensure the nostalgic feeling stays at the Roxy, the Powells plan to show reruns of old movies and will keep the building's original look.

"We would love if we could just go back and just put it back how it was," Matthew says.

They also plan to use the theater to provide accessible, inexpensive entertainment. They are keeping concession costs reasonable and ticket prices will be $7 or less.

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Matthew Powell points out the window on the exterior of the Roxy building. This is where people used to buy their tickets before going inside, and is just one of the many historical charms that the Powell's plan to keep in the renovated version.

Their main goal with the Roxy is to give back to the community, rather than make money from it.

The two work full-time jobs on top of owning their axe-throwing business, so they have other means to support themselves.

“We’re not trying to open the theater as a way to make a living for ourselves," Matthew says. "We do not think this is going to make us millions. We are strictly doing this because we feel the community has done so much for us, we want to give them something in return.”

In order to make the project happen, the Powell's are asking for community support.

They have started a Kickstarter with the goal to raise $145,000 before March 17. This money will help the project happen sooner than if the Powell's were to try and save the money themselves.

They think Hamilton will be willing to help in order to bring a theater back to the town.

"We have put a lot of time and money out of our own personal pockets into it," Matthew says.

By using Kickstarter, the Powell's will not receive any of the donations if they do not reach every penny of their goal.

They are also able to offer rewards for donations, such as free T-shirts, movie tickets and even advertising for local companies.

More on their campaign to "Bring Back the Roxy" can be found on their Kickstarter page, where donations can also be made.

“Every hour that we’ve put in to it, we have fallen more in love with this project, so we really want to make it happen," Jaylyn says.