The vacant building is a constant reminder to Maranda Schmutz Rush of a once-thriving business and a former source of entertainment for so many local residents.
She said she is concerned about the future of the former Toler Cinema and wants to see it open for business.
“I believe you have to be passionate about the things that you love,” Rush said. “I worked as a shift manager at Toler Cinema and was there from 2001 until 2004. When the doors closed on July 28 of this year, I cried.”
Working next door at Auto Tech Service Center, she said seeing the vacant building on a daily basis is a constant reminder of good times, a safe place for children and lost revenue for the community.
Rush said she posted her disbelief and disappointment on Facebook when she heard that Toler Cinema would close.
“After that posting, a lot of soldiers from the area who are serving overseas took their only phone call to call AMC and ask them not to shut down their beloved theater,” she said. “I think shutting down the theater was a ruthless and cold-hearted thing to do.”
Rush said she and her husband placed a bid to purchase the building.
“We were on vacation when we learned that our bid had been denied,” she said. “We were in a 23-plus cinema in Florida. On the last day of our vacation, I got a call that our bid had been denied.”
The movie enthusiast said she and her family frequent one of the remaining independent theaters located in Du Quoin. Rush said the theater owner keeps the costs low to encourage movie attendance.
She reminisced about her experience at the cinema, saying employees became a close-knit family.
“Michael Page was manager at that time,” Rush said. “He is a good guy.”
She said Fred and Pam Kerley were regular patrons of Toler Cinema.
“Fred directed me through the process of operating the theater the night that Michael had his heart attack,” Rush said.
Previewing movies is also a part of the job that she loved.
“A lot of people don’t know that movies arrive at theaters in cases of pieces of film that have to be spiced together,” Rush said. “A Harry Potter movie arrived in 12 cases and seven trailers. I learned how to splice the pieces of film together and add the seven trailers.
“Charles Toler opened the cinema and he taught everyone who worked there to splice the film together and make it seamless to flow together,” she said. If something went wrong with the film, previewing it gave us time to fix it before all 275 people in the theater saw it. It became second nature.
Page 2 of 3 - Working in the theater had its advantages.
“My 2-1/2-year-old niece got to see movies for the first time while I was previewing the film,” she said. “I put a blanket down on the floor for her. She got to watch 'Shrek' all by her self while sitting on the blanket. She absolutely loved it.”
She said employees took pride in their work. “We were taught the history of the theater and that helped us to understand how it all came together,” Rush said. “We took care of the theater and were rated as number one in the district three years in a row. It was not unusual for all 275 seats to be filled.”
Continuing her quest to own the theater, she said a new Facebook page would be launched on Dec. 5. “The page named Southern Illinois Review will hopefully rally support,” Rush said. “The first goal is to get the theater. Ours is the only bid the company has received.
“The building needs a lot of work,” she said. “I would be indebted to anyone willing to help redo the theater for the rest of my life. It will take time to do what needs to be done and my bid offer still stands to buy Toler Cinema. The first hurdle of getting the building is the hardest part.
“Digital projectors cost about $200,000,” Rush said. “Being an independent owner is very expensive. The theater owner in Du Quoin said he would help. He estimates it would cost a half-million dollars to renovate the building. That’s a lot of money.”
In her mind, destroying the building is not an option. “The building was built around the projection room,” Rush said. “It would take work and money, but I want to see something in that building instead of it just being torn down.”
She said Toler Cinema employees believed in longevity. “We enjoyed being a part of the cinema,” Rush said. “One of the employees had been there from day one before she passed away.
“We remembered most of our customers by name,” she said. “I had customers who worked at the hospital. They would come in every Wednesday. I knew what they would order from the snack counter.”
Rush said another patron brought hand drawings of the courthouse that hung inside the theater.
“I took my kids nieces and nephews to the theater,” she said. “My youngest boy asked me the other night if we could go to watch a movie at Toler Cinema. My nephew saw his first movie inside the theater when he wasn’t a year old.
“Toler Cinema was my first job,” Rush said. “That taught me how to handle a business. My mom owned her own business and I have always been a people person.”
Page 3 of 3 - She met her current boss, Fred Sieveking, while working at the theater.
“We would exchange favors,” Rush said. “I learned that you help out other businesses by trading services. It was fun for everybody and we helped one another.
“It shut down the dreams of those who love to go to see movies on the big screen,” Rush said.
“We took pride in what we did and I would do that again if given a chance.”
She encourages residents to show their support by visiting her Facebook page, Maranda Schmutz Rush or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.