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Millions of dollars in coronavirus relief aid provide lifeline to hard hit movie theater industry in Wisconsin

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Katie Thoresen
The Palace Twin Theater in Antigo.

Tim Suick is the second generation of Suick’s to own the Palace Twin Theater in downtown Antigo.

“Prior to that, this theater was built by a guy the name of Harvey Hansen. My father purchased this theater in ’59 from his wife,”’ he said.

Suick remembers sweeping the floors as a young teen.

Now the owner of six theaters, having recently sold one to his son, Suick still considers the Antigo Theater his home base and was proud to show it off to Governor Tony Evers Tuesday.

“Beautiful place, beautiful place,” said Evers as Suick gave him a tour of the theater.

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Katie Thoresen
Governor Evers hands large checks to Tim and Barb Suick, owner of the Antigo Twin Palace Theater and five others, and to George Rouman, President and CEO of Rouman Cinema in Rhinelander.

Governor Evers handed the Suick several large checks on Tuesday totaling more than $400,000.

The money was made available through the Movie Theater Assistance Grant Program which was funding by federal coronavirus relief aid. More than $10 million went to theaters across the state.

Evers made it clear the money was by no means a handout.

“This isn’t charity. The theaters and tourism industry and entertainment industry in Wisconsin are really important for our economy. This is an investment made by the state of Wisconsin to ensure that that part of industry stays strong,” said Evers.

Suick had to close the theater for five months at the beginning of the pandemic. It’s the only time in the 50 years he’s owned that he’s had to close it, other than a two-week renovation project years ago.

“If you take five months out of the year, that’s like two-year period where you’d have to continuously work to get that back,” said Suick.

While Wisconsin’s tourism industry had a strong recovery this year, movie theaters have been slower to recover because of their dependence on Hollywood.

“Even though we were able to open up 10 months ago after being closed for five, we still didn’t have anything to show. We opened up the first 5 or 6 months basically running old movies and old movies don’t do it. People want to see the newest and the best,” said Suick.

With regulars starting to return and the upcoming release of major blockbusters like Spiderman 3, Suick is hopeful business will start to pick up again.

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Katie Thoresen
Suick shows Gov. Evers pictures of the old projectors and what the theater used to look like.

“Right now, we’re at 60% of pre-pandemic, if we can get up to 80% by the end of this year, we’d all be very happy,” he said.

That optimism is somewhat tempered by the news of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus spreading in the U.S.

Suick says it’s not just lack of new movies, but people’s fear of the virus that keeps many from coming back to the theater.

I think we’ll play with this COVID thing for a long time and I think eventually people will get used it,” said Suick.

Governor Evers encouraged people to get vaccinated to help protect themselves and businesses owners like Suick.

“The more people we can vaccinate in the state of Wisconsin, the quicker we will end this pandemic,” said Evers.

The vaccine is available to everyone ages 5 and older. 56% of the Wisconsin’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID.

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