PORT TOWNSEND — Instead of his weekly “Rocky’s Review” of some current film, a stark phrase appeared last week on RoseTheatre.com.
“Asking for help.”
Rocky Friedman, owner for 28 years of the Rose Theatre in downtown Port Townsend, elaborated about the cinema’s grim prospects amid the coronavirus pandemic:
“The reality is, I have no idea if we’ll be reopening this year, next year, or at all,” he wrote.
Describing a “no-win scenario,” Friedman added that even when Jefferson County reaches Phase 3 of the state’s Safe Start reopening plan, the Rose could allow a seating capacity of only 25 percent. That’s 69 people across the three screens: the main Rose Theatre, the adjacent Rosebud and the Starlight Room, which opened upstairs seven years ago.
The theater would lose money every time it showed a movie.
On Thursday, Friedman gave a plea for financial help via a GoFundMe.com crowdfunding page.
Friedman said it wasn’t easy for him to ask for it, and he added that “sharing this campaign with friends would help us tremendously.”
Then there are the donors.
By noon Tuesday, they had given $154,580 — close to 97 percent of the $160,000 goal.
“Beyond the money, the number of shares … that’s hard to comprehend,” a breathless Friedman said Tuesday morning.
He said he’s never been part of a GoFundMe campaign before, and it feels like a moving train. It’s picking up momentum and hurtling toward a miracle, he added.
The money raised will not only make it possible for the Rose to survive until it can reopen — during Phase 4, which will allow 50 percent seating capacity — but also to improve the historic building for post-pandemic safety.
After he initially set a $110,000 goal, Friedman upped that to $160,000 to fund measures including overhaul of the cinema’s ventilation and air purification system, touchless sinks, protective equipment for employees, plexiglas for the concession area and increased capacity for cashless interactions.
The Rose Theatre’s success is similar in some ways to that of City Lights Books in San Francisco, which was reportedly near death last spring. The independent shop set a GoFundMe goal of $300,000 and raised more than $450,000 by mid-April.
The store is now back open daily.
In contrast, the Orinda Theatre in affluent Orinda, Calif., also started a GoFundMe effort in April, in hopes of raising $165,000. Some 1,100 donors have given $116,860.
Friedman, for his part, posted an all-capitals “THANK YOU” on the Rose’s donation page.
“When this week began,” he wrote, “our future was in doubt. Because of you, we are confident that we will be able reopen one day.”
More than 1,300 contributions range from $10 to $2,100, from people who live a few blocks away to former Rose patrons who have moved away.
The Rose experience, with its old-fashioned ambiance, popcorn with seasonings and hosts introducing each film: It has won people’s hearts.
“When a new movie comes out that we really want to see, we check when the Rose is going to show it. Then we hop on a ferry and make it either a whole day or overnighter,” wrote donor Kathleen Arnold, adding, “this theater is a treasure to the entire Puget Sound area.”
Gifts from other local businesses floored Friedman as well.
The three new owners of the shuttered Aldrich’s market, who have said they hope to reopen the store this month, posted a donation Tuesday morning.
The Pourhouse and Sunrise Coffee also have contributed.
“I know every business is struggling to some extent. When I look at those … ” Friedman said, trailing off.
“At this time of endless travail, please spare a moment, and as much money as you can, to help the Rose weather this lethal disruption,” wrote supporter Robert Kapp, who then urged people to visit RoseTheatre.com to see the films available for online streaming at home.
Since April, Friedman has been adding documentaries, dramas and comedies to his menu, which today features “Jimmy Carter, Rock & Roll President,” “Jazz on a Summer’s Day,” “Fantastic Fungi” and 24 other titles.
Streaming fees, which range from $4.99 to $12 per household, are divided between film distributors and the theater; they pay a small fraction of the Rose’s expenses.
Another supplement comes from popcorn to go, sold at the Rose window, 235 Taylor St., from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays.
Friedman hopes to keep the popcorn flowing at least through September.
Friedman plans to make streaming a permanent Rose offering, available to anybody who can log onto the theater’s website.
“I can’t tell you how many people have called or emailed to say ‘My children, or my parents or my friends across the country want to watch movies from the Rose,’ ” he said.
“I know some Port Townsend folks who are stuck in Ireland because of COVID. They asked me: ‘Can we screen your movies?’ I just love that.”
Friedman is feeling the love in the larger picture, too.
“It is incredibly overwhelming,” he said, “and humbling to say the least. I never, never anticipated this outpouring of support.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.