As the owners of the Pickwick Theatre work out an agreement with a prospective tenant to take over the theater operations, Park Ridge officials and business community members weighed in on how the 1928-vintage landmark theater draws people to the city’s Uptown area and functions as an economic engine and cultural anchor.
News that longtime co-owners of the theater Dino Vlahakis and Dave Loomos would stop showing movies in the theater sent shock waves through Park Ridge and Chicagoland last month, sparking worries that something could happen to the Art Deco building and fears that Park Ridge would lose one of its major entertainment and gathering hubs.
The building itself is both a local landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
But beyond ensuring its physical continuity, city leaders are thinking about how the Pickwick contributes to the Park Ridge economy, whether that’s as a taxpayer, as an area draw for consumers or as a backdrop and host to other community events.
There’s the explicit financial contribution the theater makes to Park Ridge and local school districts and the park district every year through tax payments. The property, which hosts 24 other tenants besides the historic theater, generated a tax bill of $133,476 in 2021, according to Vlahakis.
Of that sum, $4,264.57 went to the city of Park Ridge, Vlahakis said. Then there’s sales tax, which he said ranges between $300 and $1,000 every month.
When you do the math, Vlahakis said, the Pickwick has made a hefty contribution to the city and school districts over his tenure as owner.
“Our real estate tax bill has always been about $100,000, so over 40 years I’ve generated $4 million in real estate taxes,” he said.
But Vlahakis and other city leaders emphasized that the Pickwick’s value to Park Ridge goes beyond tax dollars and the movies it lists on its marquee.
“We draw probably more people than anything else in Park Ridge,” Vlahakis said. “What else, entertainment-wise, is there?”
The theater draws people who will often do “dinner and a movie” and spend some time – and money – in the area before or after they see their show, Vlahakis said.
“When we have a big hit movie, you can look at all the restaurants,” he said. “Especially when there’s a classic film. You see people in the restaurants because they want to be someplace where they can park, have dinner and go see a movie.”
Park Ridge Chamber of Commerce President Jackie Mathews said the chamber doesn’t keep hard data on what draws consumers to Uptown.
“The greatest surveys we can do are based on ‘I’m out in the community and I’m listening to feedback from the community,’” Mathews said.
“The Pickwick is more than the building,” Mathews said. “Yes, it’s an architectural landmark, but as a business it’s very central to the dynamics in Uptown.”
Mathews said having a theater set among other pedestrian-friendly businesses in Uptown produces a “collaborative, mutually beneficial arrangement.”
“Great business promotes great business,” Mathews said. “So the Pickwick being successful and flourishing for all of these decades, that enables people who want to see movies, they want to go out to dinner, they want to go shopping.”
Mathews also noted that the theater works in conjunction with other community institutions like the annual showing of “It’s a Wonderful Life” alongside the Park Ridge Community Fund and Liberty Mutual Bank, or kids’ movies during the annual Taste of Park Ridge festival.
“Those are really important moments that people remember and they want to experience the tradition year after year,” Mathews said.
There’s also the issue of visibility. Park Ridge City Manager Joe Gilmore pointed out that the Pickwick brings “additional exposure, visitors and spending to Park Ridge” as a landmark where shows like Chicago Fire ask to film.
The television series shot an episode, “Completely Shattered,” at the theater in summer 2022.
One instance of this was a 2017 Block Party put on by television station WGN, Gilmore wrote in an email to Pioneer Press.
“This event brought significant exposure to the city and several thousand visitors, and part of the reason Park Ridge was selected from many potential sites was the [look and feel] of Uptown,” Gilmore said.
And he echoed Mathews’ observation that the theater and entertainment business was important to Park Ridge as part of “a tapestry or orchestra with many distinct components working together to create greater benefit.”
The Pickwick hosted its final screenings under Vlahakis and Loomos Jan. 12, with two packed showings of Gone With the Wind. The theater’s General Manager Kathryn Tobias will program movies there through April 1, Vlahakis said.
A deal with a new tenant for the theater space is expected to be final in the coming weeks.