Marquis Theater gets facelift during shutdown

THE MOVIE PROJECTORS at the Marquis Theater in downtown Middlebury have been silenced by the pandemic but owner Ben Wells has plans to reopen as soon as next spring. Independent photo/Angelo Lynn

MIDDLEBURY — At least one Main Street business in Middlebury has been inactive during the pandemic, but continues to survive with the prospect of reopening next spring: The Marquis Theater.

Ben Wells, owner of the Marquis, was forced to close the theater and lay off his staff when the pandemic hit last spring. He did secure a grant through the first round of the federal CARES Act that he said will keep the Marquis dormant-but-solvent through the end of this year.

The unplanned hibernation has allowed Wells to make some improvements to the theater space, which offers some live shows in addition to screening movies and serving food in a café. Among the improvements: replacement of some of the seats in the upstairs theater, a new laser projector for the café, and epoxy treatment of the floor in the main theater.

“We’re doing alright,” Wells said, “and we’re cautiously optimistic we’ll get another round of support from the federal government.”

That aid, according to Wells, would most likely come through new legislation co-sponsored by Vermont Congressman Peter Welch. It’s called the “Save Our Stages” (SOS) bill, which would appropriate pandemic relief money for live entertainment venues that have stood dormant since mid-March.

Wells participated in a recent National Association of Theater Owners conference call with Welch, during which he urged Vermont’s lone Congressman to expand the SOS bill’s beneficiaries to include small, independent movie theaters, in addition to the live performance theaters.

“He was very receptive, but it’s a wait-and-see,” Wells said. “That conversation was pre-election. I don’t know exactly what the status of the bill is, and we have a lame-duck session right now.”

With a lot of hard work and a little luck, Wells hopes to reopen the Marquis next April or May with a new menu of films and Southwestern cuisine at the café.

“I feel lucky to be in a town with so much support, and we’re eager to get back to seeing everybody on a daily and weekly basis,” he said. “We miss everyone.”

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