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Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park

Rogers Park’s New 400 Theaters Could Close After 100 Years As Fans Make Last-Ditch Effort To Save It

The New 400 Theaters opened in 1912 and made it through the pandemic. But the crowds haven't returned, signaling the theater's likely demise, its owner said.

The New 400 Theaters in Rogers Park
Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago
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ROGERS PARK — The New 400 Theaters navigated the pandemic and reopened in 2021 to continue its streak as the oldest-running movie house in the city.

But crowds have not returned in droves to the movie theater at 6746 N. Sheridan Road. The downturn in business has all but ensured the theater has to close for good, owner Tony Fox said.

The Loyola Phoenix student newspaper broke the news of the theater’s likely closure March 1. Since then, fans have flocked to the 400 and groups have organized to save it. But the fanfare will likely not be enough to keep the lights on, and it’s “overwhelmingly likely” Fox will have to close the theater and find a new tenant, he said.

“The problem is, we’ve lost too much money,” Fox said. “I decided to give it a chance last year to see if [business] would come back. We did half the business we used to before COVID. Half is a very big drop.”

The New 400 Theaters opened in 1912, when the city was dotted with neighborhood movie houses. It remained in operation even as many of those movie palaces have gone out of business.

Credit: Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago
The New 400 Theaters’ marquee as seen on March 8, 2023.

Fox, a real estate investor, bought the retail building housing the New 400 in 2007. He took over operation of the theater in 2009, after its then-owner stopped paying rent for more than a year.

The theater enjoyed years of good business until the pandemic changed everything. The pandemic forced the New 400 to temporarily close, and the business pivoted to stay afloat. That includes operating as a takeout concession business with patio service, a theater rental business and even a coronavirus testing center.

It reopened to regular movie screenings in June 2021, marking the second pandemic the theater has survived.

But movie theater attendance is down about 52 percent since 2018, according to Indie Wire.

At the same time, film studios are taking a bigger cut of revenue from movie ticket sales — 65 percent compared to 51 percent in the past, Fox said. More new movies end up on streaming services, reducing the appeal of theaters. That, plus extra labor costs due to minimum wage hikes, has made the business model unsustainable, Fox said.

Fox will soon begin a search for an entity to take over the theater space. Once the space is leased, he will likely look to sell the building, he said.

But neighbors and movie lovers are not letting the New 400 go without a fight.

Credit: Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago
The New 400 Theaters, 6746 N. Sheridan Road.

One neighbor started the New 400 Street Team, a group dedicated to keeping the theater in business. A website has been formed that includes a page on how to help the business.

More than 75 people have signed up for the group’s communications, said lead organizer Rachel Jones. The group’s first meeting is scheduled for next week.

Another neighbor, Eric Huebner, has organized weekly movie nights with neighbors. The first group outing is planned for Thursday with the hope the weekly event can gain steam and help the theater stay in business, Huebner said.

“Rogers Park has already been affected pretty terribly from COVID,” Huebner said. “The 400 theater is pretty near and dear to my heart. … I would rather see it remain supported as our local theater than become derelict.”

The fans’ efforts has driven up business, Fox said. He’s even fielded some inquiries from parties interested in buying the business.

Fox said he appreciates the support, but the recent bump in popularity is unlikely to make a long-term difference.

“I am grateful to everyone who’s interested in the situation,” he said. “I don’t think people understand how much business you need to sustain a place like that. You need everybody all the time. That’s the way it was before COVID.”

Fox said the theater would likely need someone with “Pritzker-level” money. But even then, there’s no guarantee the business will ever turn a profit.

“Everyone has more choices now,” Fox said. “The only incentive to go to the movies is to get away from your phone.”

Fox is speaking with real estate brokers who said the 8,000-square-foot space could be converted to a restaurant, night club or even a day care.

The New 400 will not close for a few months and could remain open for as long as nine months, Fox said. An announcement will be made if a closing date is decided upon.

Fox is welcoming neighbors to patronize the long-running movie palace before it likely transitions to another use.

“I’m very grateful to the community for the good years we had,” he said. “We can go out with a fizzle or out with a bang. Last weekend was more like a bang.”

The New 400 Theaters is open Thursday-Sunday. Screen times are online.

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