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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Newly-remodeled State Theater ready and waiting

Facility idled for now by COVID-19

Keith Vandervort
Posted 5/14/20

ELY – Coming soon to a very local theater near you: “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Philadelphia Story,” “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Butch Cassidy and the …

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Newly-remodeled State Theater ready and waiting

Facility idled for now by COVID-19


ELY – Coming soon to a very local theater near you: “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Philadelphia Story,” “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Those classic movies are “coming soon” to this town’s new movie venue.
The projector is warmed up. The movie screen is down. The popcorn is ready to be popped, and the lights are on at Ely’s Historic State Theater. Their website,, went live this week welcoming movie buffs of all ages.
The only fly in the ointment is the coronavirus pandemic.
According to David Wigdahl, chair of the non-profit board of directors that runs the new entertainment facility, a potential June 1 grand opening date is in limbo because of the stay-at-home orders put in place by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz over an abundance of caution over COVID-19.
The last pieces of the movie venue were put in place this spring, according to Wigdahl, including a 4K projector and giant movie screen.
“All that is left to do is calibrating the equipment,” he said late last week, as he toured the facility with a visitor, “and we will be ready to open our doors as soon as it is deemed safe and we clear that last hurdle.”
The height of that hurdle is unknown.
“It is kind of bittersweet right now as we get ready to open for our movie fans,” he said. “We built it, but will they come?”
A plan will be ready to implement once health officials give the go-ahead for movie theaters to begin operating across the state. Peter Schamber, manager at Ely’s Historic State Theater, said the health of customers, volunteers, and staff will be taken very seriously. “We believe everyone has the right to enjoy our facilities equally, and it is our promise that we are taking every precaution to ensure a comfortable yet safe movie-viewing experience during these difficult times,” he said.
Wigdahl said he is looking at a seating plan of 25-percent of capacity to start.
“That may be just 44 seats or so,” he said. “People will likely self-select to come and will do so when they feel it is safe to do so. We will be ready when the community is confident that it is safe.”
“Transparency is the key to safety,” Schamber said. “To that end, we have made public our rigorous plan to address all of the recommended practices for reducing the spread of COVID-19, including socially-distant reserved seating, closed food and drink containers, single-direction traffic flow, enhanced cleaning procedures and personal protective equipment.”
To reduce direct contact between customers and staff, the theater will be conducting all sales of tickets and concessions strictly online.
“To facilitate this, we have created ticket/concession bundles for you to purchase,” Schamber said.
Popcorn will be sold in sealed one- gallon plastic bags. All popcorn will be popped and packaged in advance while the concession area is empty. All drinks will be sold in their original cans. All concession items will be handed to customers by gloved staff members.
“It is not practical to consume food and beverages while wearing a face mask, and so we will not require face masks for our customers,” he said. “However, we strongly encourage customers to wear face masks while entering and exiting the theater for the safety of those around them.”
“My goal is that all of our customers understand what we are doing to keep them safe,” Schamber said. “It may be overly cautious at the moment, but I would prefer to start cautious and loosen the requirements than try to go the other way.”
Additional safety plan details are available on the facility’s website.
Work continues on the adjacent Salerno Building renovation where a smaller theater will be built. A dedicated concession area is also under construction.
“We just had our liquor license approved by the city council,” Wigdahl said. “We will be booking first-run movies and second-run movies once we are up and running.”
Seat sponsorship plaques
Fans of Ely’s Historic State Theater can support the restoration project by purchasing an engraved silver nameplate for one of the facility’s historic seats.
The original cast iron “end standards” have been refinished with new theater seat parts custom made to fit them. The work was finished by Michigan-based Irwin Seating Company.
According to the company’s website, for more than a century Irwin Seating Company has designed and manufactured theatre seating for some of the world’s most prestigious venues, including New York City’s Broadway district. Closer to home, Irwin Seating Company created and installed all of the seats for the Vikings’ US Bank Stadium.
For a donation of $400, a nameplate will be engraved with 12 characters of text on three lines.
“About 120 nameplates have been sold and we have about 130 seats remaining,” Wigdahl said. Seat plates will also be available to purchase in the State Theater’s adjacent, smaller venue that is still under construction.
If you wish to donate online via Paypal, be sure to mail in a form or download and email it to EHST is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and all donations are tax deductible to the full extent of the law.
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