LYONS — From silent movies to talkies to multiplexes to the transition from film to digital, the beautifully restored Ohmann Theatre has been through it all — and all with a single screen.
After 115 years, the Ohmann is embracing a big change: a second theater.
The space that has been converted into a small movie theater has a lot of history of its own, theater owner Bob Ohmann noted.
“This used to be a drug store years ago,” he said.
In fact, Fox’s Drugs/Fox’s Sodas had a door connecting the business to the long entrance-way into the Ohmann — and the drug store’s access into the theater had a purpose, Ohmann explained.
In its early years, the theater didn’t sell candy, so if anyone wanted something sweet while they took in a movie, live production or even a boxing match, they could slip over to the drug store. In recent years, it has served as a meeting space, but Ohmann decided he’d like a second theater, and in about three weeks it was done.
The new space features the former sound system from the main 500-seat screen, which now has a high-tech sound system that Ohmann said he’s pretty sure he paid too much for.
The new 44-seat screen won’t rival the original theater in size, but it provides Ohmann a chance to bring in a greater variety of films.
“We’re going to do more adult fare in here, because we do a lot of kid fare in the big theater,” said Ohmann, 70, as he walked the theater with his dog, Stahl, his enthusiastic and energetic Weimaraner. “We expect that this will do pretty well.”
The second screen also will give Ohmann a chance to rotate films more quickly. The Disney movies that dominate the main screen are required to run 3-4 weeks, he explained.
Ohmann’s family has owned the theater for most of its existence, save a period from the late 1980s until 2005. That’s when he acquired it and embarked on a major renovation and restoration project.
Ohmann was a home builder in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina for years and used some of his fortune to restore the theater. He figures he has spent $1 million on improvements.
Bob said it was his wife, Leslie, a Greensboro native, who urged him to save the theater that was closed when he bought it.
While the single-screen theater has persevered through changes in the movie industry, a second screen was something he’d thought about often.
“Sometimes you look at what you’ve got opportunity-wise,” said Ohmann, who, until recently also was the owner of two Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League teams — the Newark Pilots and the Geneva Red Wings. He sold the Pilots last November but is holding onto the Geneva team.
Joan Delaro, who heads the Lyons Main Street Program, said she’s learned one thing about Ohmann: When he decides he wants to do something, it’s going to happen — and fast.
“Bob doesn’t want to wait when he has an idea,” she said.
Ohmann said it took about three weeks to build the new theater, which features the original tin ceiling of the old drug store.
While movies are the Ohmann’s bread and butter, the venue is well equipped to handle live theater, musical performances and corporate functions. LNB uses it each year for its annual meeting.
It also has hosted weddings and anniversaries — even a funeral, said Ohmann.
He credits people like Tom Herendeen, who manages the theater, for the Ohmann’s good fortune.
“Tom is the reason this place is successful,” said Ohmann.
“I’m the tech nerd,” Herendeen explained with a smile.
“He’s been doing it basically since it’s been open (under his ownership),” Ohmann said of his manager. “(Tom) makes it go. I like to make the popcorn.”
That popcorn — they still used melted butter, not a mix — and the candy and drinks are where theaters make their money.
“For every dollar on a movie, 65 percent goes back to the movie company,” Ohmann relayed. “That’s why you have to make it on concessions.”
He also credits the work of Rick Wadsworth, a longtime friend who volunteers for whatever needs to get done.
“Rick has a passion for this place,” he said.
Wadsworth, in turn, expressed his admiration for Ohmann.
“Bob has done so much for this town,” said Wadsworth, noting his significant financial assistance to the Lyons Fire Department, Lyons Community Center and the school district. “He’s really been somebody who is a catalyst for moving things forward (in Lyons).”
Wadsworth said he “can’t put into words” the importance of the Ohmann to Lyons.
While the ability to present first-run movies with the latest digital equipment and sound is one reason the Ohmann succeeds, its history is a draw too. Bob said many people come to the Ohmann — many of them boaters on the canal — just to get a glimpse of the historic theater. Many want to see the balcony that is generally closed to moviegoers. There, you’ll find the original 1915 seats, which are, as expected, well worn. Ohmann flips one up to reveal the hat hanger underneath.
“We kind of left them up there for a nostalgic type of thing,” Ohmann said.