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The Times Cinema in Milwaukee reopens after more than two years

Kobe Brown
Lee Barczak with his staff in front of Time Cinema

The Milwaukee Film Festival wrapped up last week, marking the end of its first year back to in-person screenings. For one local theater having film enthusiasts back in the seats, has been a long-time coming.

The Film Fest had showings at Milwaukee’s Oriental Theater and the Avalon. It also brought movie-goers back to the Times Cinema for the first time since they were forced to close due to the pandemic.

Lee Barczak is the owner of the Times Cinema. He shares more about the history of the theater and plans for it now that the Film Fest has ended.

He starts, "The history of the Times Theater goes back quite a ways. This building was originally an automobile dealership, and it became a movie theater. The movie theater was originally a first-run movie theater that was very well known for carrying films for the neighborhood that everybody wanted to see back in the early days of the, I would say, Hollywood's glamour years."

The Times reopened about four weeks before the Film Festival began. Barczak says, "It opened to participate in the Film Festival but also, of course, because the cinema was ready to be operational again."

Barczak, who also owns the Avalon Theater, says the pandemic was tough. They still had to pay for operating expenses, property taxes and other costs despite the Times Cinema being closed. In addition to that, he says he had to really make an effort not to lose his employees.

Barczak says in working to keep his employees on, he found the people who work for the theater really enjoy it and have a deep connection to the community.

"They're not just employees. I mean, you can tell they're advocates of these theaters. And it was a little hard when we told some of them they had to come to the southeast part of town to work. And you know, they weren't always just excited to do that," says Barczak.

Now, he says he plans to make the Times Cinema a repertory theater. The movies that will show there will be primarily older and part of some kind of theme.

Those themes include everything from Oscar nominees, to films about mothers, to a James Bond marathon.

Barczak says the Times Cinema will stay open beyond the Film Festival and they'll be adding new things to look forward to.

"A local movie theater is as important to a neighborhood as having a good coffee shop, or good restaurants, or any other component of the commercialism that neighborhoods need so they can thrive and not just survive," says Barczak.

Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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