MISSOULA — After sixteen months of being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Roxy Theatre reopened its doors in June, bringing films back to the Missoula community.
Originally opened in 1937, the Roxy has gone through multiple transitions throughout its time on Higgins Avenue. From a neighborhood theatre showing family films to a college dive bar theatre in the 70s and 80s – and even an entire reconstruction after it was burned down in 1994 – the Roxy has been a staple in Missoula, hosting internationally renowned film festivals and changing along with the city around it.
When Mike Steinberg took the reins as executive director in 2012, he envisioned much more for the Roxy and helped to establish a creative hub for celebrating film as one of the only independent theatres in Missoula.
“There was no vitality in the film community here. So I suggested we run this year-round as an independent theatre and do repertory titles, classic films and new releases, and still serve the community for film festivals that were here,” Steinberg said.
Since then the Missoula community has embraced the Roxy as it continues to grow its reputation as a community-based theater. The staff handpicks films that they believe reflect the community’s interest, and it still produces a monthly calendar detailing the shows being played – reminiscent of the ’80s and ’90s.
“People got it right away and there are enough people in Missoula who remember this thing. There were people who were nostalgic for something that they have never even known about, which was a movie theatre that catered to the community and to local interest. In our state as a non-profit, it makes sense to operate in this way where you are not just a retail operation.”
This year, the Roxy was once again forced to adapt amid the COVID-19 pandemic that forced its doors closed for 16 months. A devastating sentence for any theatre, the future of the Roxy was somewhat uncertain at the time.
That is until the Missoula community rallied around the Roxy in order to support the theatre through the pandemic.
“Immediately we saw a huge outpouring of support financially. We raised $40,000 to $50,000 in the first two weeks,” said Steinberg. “Members were saying, ‘I want to renew my membership even though I don’t know when you will be open again.’ ”
Although the pandemic halted the traditional movie theatre experience, the Roxy did not stay stagnant. The Roxy partnered with the Paddlehead baseball team to show socially distanced outdoor screenings of movies at Ogren Park at Allegiance Field every Thursday night during the summer.
In addition, the Roxy rented out theatre space for private parties and screenings and even built an outdoor movie theatre garden.
As of now, the theatre reopened its doors in June to moviegoers to fill the three-screen theatre. It will continue showing films to in Missoula.
“There is something special about the Roxy I think, but there is an inherent thing in humans where we want to join and be there together,” Steinberg said.