Woodstock Theatre expansion boosts downtown foot traffic

WOODSTOCK – With the upgrades at the historic Woodstock Theatre mostly complete, foot traffic has increased in the Square and stores are staying open later.

The Woodstock Theatre, which was purchased by Downers Grove-based Classic Cinemas, recently held its grand reopening after a $6 million renovation and expansion.

The work included more than doubling the seating capacity to 1,116 in its eight auditoriums, up from 421 seats; upgrading both screening and check-in technology; and restoring the original 85-year-old auditorium, which had been spilt into two theaters.

The biggest surprise of the renovation was the auditorium’s dome, said Chris Johnson, the vice president of the family-owned business.

“We didn’t know if it was in salvagable shape,” he said. “We also found some molding, which we replicated by taking plaster reliefs. We found some bricks that we put in the facade. The little white bricks were from the original theater. We found one of the original chandeliers at an antique shop.”

Pictures and advertisements from the original theater and two other theaters from the area also have been framed, Johnson said.

Taking the extra effort – and spending the extra money – to preserve the theater’s history was something Classic Cinemas didn’t need to do, but did anyways, Woodstock Mayor Brian Sager said.

“When they made that financial commitment, they were also making a very strong commitment to the community at large,” he said. “There was a commitment to historical preservation and economic growth in the area.”

The theater also expanded its hours, Johnson said. Shows used to start at 4 p.m. and wrap up by 7 p.m., but now matinees and late shows have been added to the schedule. The line-up of movies also is more varied.

The changes appear to be paying off.

The number of customers has doubled to 90,000 over the first 22 weeks of the year compared to 43,000 over the same period last year, Johnson said.

The increased foot traffic generated by the theater has been felt by business owners around the Square, said Shari Gray, the executive director of the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce.

A couple new restaurants have opened since the renovations started, and some stores have expanded their hours to capitalize on the increased traffic, she said.

“I think the whole vibe of the Square is cautiously optimistic, but if you are here downtown, you do notice a difference,” Gray said. “The Chamber members I’ve spoken to have seen a tick up in the number of people coming into their businesses.”