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BizCast 10: New Life for The Rivoli Theatre

Episode 10

New Life for the Rivoli Theatre & Pizzaria

About BizCast Greater La Crosse

We bring you news from the business community. From startups to experienced problem solvers, you’ll get in-depth insight on the challenges and opportunities of doing business in Greater La Crosse. Our show is a collaboration between and BizNews Greater La Crosse ( ).

Inside Photos of the Rivoli

Tap the photo to see more

Finding a Hidden Jem

Tap the image to read the Facebook post

The Rivoli Theatre Over Time

Full Transcript

Jonathan Gelatt 0:01
And I thought that purchasing the Rivoli Building would be way too much for me to handle. Luckily when Claire moved back, and we looked at it, she was definitely the one that said, “I think we can kind of do the whole thing.” I sort of said, “I would only be interested if it’s just the business because the rest felt too big for me”. Luckily, I have siblings were willing to help.

Vicki Markussen 0:23
Welcome to BizCast Greater La Crosse. This is your host, Vicki Markussen. We’re bringing you news out of the business community. Joining us today are Clara and Jonathan Gillette. We are missing is your brother Philip. That’s right. But he will be represented through the two siblings. You — all three of you — purchased the Rivoli. So many of us saw it go up on the market and thought, “Oh no! Is this icon in La Crosse going to go away? What’s going to become of the property?” How soon after it went up for sale, did you purchase it?

Clara Gelatt 0:56
I think it had been up for sale for a little while and they had gone off the market and then came back on the market. When I saw it go back on the market in the beginning of January 2022, pretty quickly after that, I went to Philip and Jonathan and said, “You know we have thrown the idea around before of, “Wouldn’t it be great to be involved in the Rivoli in some way?” So we kind of started talking about it right away at the beginning of the year.

Jonathan Gelatt 1:23
Yeah, I mean, about once a year, I would send Philip a message and ask him if it was the year we were going to buy the Rivoli. This year turned out to actually be the year we did it.

Vicki Markussen 1:33
All three of you grew up here,

Clara Gelatt 1:34
Yeah, yep. So we all grew up here. All Logan high school grads, very, very proud.

Vicki Markussen 1:40
Pride of the Northside.

Clara Gelatt 1:41
And then we we all moved away for a bit. Jonathan came back in 2016. Is that right? I think and I came back in 2019. Right away, yeah, like Jonathan said, when he moved back, he right away said if the Rivoli ever comes for sale, that is something he would be interested in. So then we kind of joked that I sort of made him put his money where his mouth was and came to Jonathan and Philip and said, “You know, let’s take a look at it. I think there’s a way we can try to make it work.” We put the offer in actually on April 1, which, so we’re coming up on a year since we put the offer in. I remember because my dad asked if it was a big April Fool’s joke. Then we closed on June 13th. Then we’ve just been, you know, hard at work ever since – kind of learning a lot of different things, learning about what it is to own 100 year old building, learning about running a movie theater, and you know, so many other things. So, it’s been a lot of fun so far,

Vicki Markussen 2:39
When you bought it. did you envision that you were going to keep the Rivoli the way that it was, or did you know that you would have to change the business model?

Jonathan Gelatt 2:46
Um, yeah, I mean, we, I at least wanted to change the programming of what they were playing. I think that there was a dearth in selections in big cinemas. You get like six movies, even in a really big cinemas with a lot of screens. I always kind of wanted to tailor a little bit. As far as the business runs, no, I mean, I just wanted to stay open pretty much. To go back a little bit. I had kind of been sniffing around for the Rivoli or maybe other theaters in the area or even starting my own. But that seemed like a bigger deal. And I thought that purchasing the Rivoli Building would be way too much for me to handle. Luckily, when Claire moved back, and we looked at it, she was definitely the one that said, “I think we can kind of do the whole thing, because I sort of said, I would only be interested if it’s just the business, because the rest fell too big for me.” Luckily, I have siblings who were willing to help.

Clara Gelatt 3:39
I think to build on that a little bit, too, we realized that,and this is not news to anyone, the movie theater business in general, that industry is changing, I really don’t think that it will ever go away, but with streaming and with the way that movie studios work, now, you really have to look at a movie theater more as an event space for movies and more as a place where you can get large groups of people together to do something really fun. So I like to think the Rivoli always has been this, but I really think of it as like a community movie theater, right? So one great example, we had a young woman and her dad emailed us and said, “Would you ever do a western movie marathon at the Rivoli?” We wrote back and said, “Sure, come in and talk to us about it, let’s figure it out.” Now, March 25, we’re doing a western movie marathon. That’s been really fun, you know, to kind of work with the community on you know, what’s gonna get you out, what’s gonna get you back in the seats – to have that really great experience of watching a movie together. Then being able to talk about it afterward. There’s something about that, that you can’t get at home.

Vicki Markussen 4:44
[I said it before we started] when you said an events and community I think of Rocky Horror Picture Show, right, which the current generation has no idea what we’re even talking about. But it really starts to becoming an event center, in addition to watching a movie,

Clara Gelatt 5:02
Mm hmm, yeah. And that’s where Jonathan just excels. He’s got so many good ideas for movies. Sometimes, it’s so much fun. We’re gonna play the new Mario movie coming out in April. We meet every week with the staff. We just got really excited about that we could do a whole Mario party weekend, you know, it’s just, it’s really fun to think about these things. Then also to draw on the past, we’re very lucky in our community, our Public Library and UW-L to have such great resources on the history of this town. We have been able to get a lot of old advertisements of things the Rivoli used to do in the 1950s. And earlier. So, you know, we started doing kids parties, mostly because we saw an ad, right?

Jonathan Gelatt 5:46
That was for the Boo bash or something.

Clara Gelatt 5:48
Yeah, kids Halloween party and thought, I mean, I’m pretty sure this would work today. So we’ve done three different kids parties, and they I mean, it’s really, really fun.

Vicki Markussen 5:57
And that is a large building. Right? So it’s three levels. What, what else is planned for that space?

Clara Gelatt 6:05
Yeah, that’s a great question. I am hesitant to commit to any one plan. We’re definitely exploring different options right now. So we, through the City, have done the engineering and architectural analysis. So we’re just finishing up that process. When what we’re trying to decide, looking at the three floors, of what is now office space. What’s the best way for us to use that space. So you know, we’re looking at if we could do apartments,. We’re also looking at what it would look like to do just some really great office space with maybe some good co-working in there. It is a beautiful building. It needs a lot of love, but the interior is all original in the office space. So you have 1920s, woddwork down the hallways. Once you get to the fourth floor, you just have this gorgeous light and a really, really nice view of the city. So I always joke. I am an unofficial tour guide to anybody wants to come and walk around and hear my spiel on the on the building. That’s where we’re at with it right now. But as Jonathan said, I think that was the thing that came together for us. He and I love movies and movie theater, I feel very happy to entrust him with the creative direction of the movie theater. And he feels very happy to let me figure out what we’re doing with those floors of office space. So I think that has worked out nicely. It’s fun for me to envision what we could do with all this cool space up there.

Vicki Markussen 7:27
You also have a pizza place in there. Can you explain how that came about?

Unknown Speaker 7:33
Yes. So I mean, I guess technically speaking, we have the Rivoli pizza, which I always have to ensure everyone that they know that the Rivoli still has pizza also, but Pizzeria Delarosa just opened Valentine’s Day. That is one of our first tenants. They are open for lunch and dinner, Tuesday through Saturday. We have a pretty cool business model in the space, where now we share what used to be the party room in the Rivoli as a shared space between the Rivoli movie theater, and then their restaurant. It’s seating for them. It’s also a space for us to hold, movie parties and things like that. That relationship, I really hope that we can build on that for the whole rest of the building. We have a very nice collaborative relationship with that business. We learn a lot from them because we’ve never worked in food service before. I think the hope is that we can just bring a lot more energy to the building in general, by having a bunch of really fun things go on.

Vicki Markussen 8:35
In terms of the building anything surprise you.

Jonathan Gelatt 8:43
I mean, we found a bunch of rations from Vietnam down in the basement. That was like a fun surprise. Yeah,

Clara Gelatt 8:49
That’s where my mind went first. So it’s I think it’s actually like bomb shelter. You know, staples, right. So it’s these big drums that are a sanitation kit. Then there’s biscuit flour. I think it’s from World War II, all stacked up down there. Most of the surprises have come in the basement so far, It is a very big basement with lots and lots of things in it. So we’ve been slowly cleaning it out and trying to figure out what we should keep and what can go. We also, for better or worse, have the original 1960s air conditioning system. So that’s interesting to see. It’s very cool to look at, but it will be part of the renovation when we get it going. I’m trying to think I mean, then most recently, one of the fun surprises is the mural.

Yeah. That’s been the best surprise actually.

Unknown Speaker 8:56
It’s just so funny because we were peeling the wallpaper down, the plan was actually to have someone paint a mural there, that’s why we were bringing that wallpaper down. And then you know, lo and behold, there was the ….,

Clara Gelatt 9:26
She actually happened to be there, the woman who had been talking about to do the mural, was there one day when it was coming down and asks, “Can I see what’s behind that?” And then yeah, that’s what’s behind it. So yeah, awesome.

Vicki Markussen 10:08
So what’s the plan?

Clara Gelatt 10:09
So we’ll keep that there. We are pretty sure that that is from the 1930s renovation. So if we go ahead with a historic restoration of the theater, then the time that we would restore it back to is the 1930s. We are just not going to touch it until we make that decision. Then we’ll figure out the right way to keep it safe.

Jonathan Gelatt 10:32
Yeah, yeah, we were talking about how funny and not funny it would be to do a prank though, where we pretend to paint over it on our Instagram or something. They look at this cool thing we found, anyway. Yeah, a bunch of white paint on top. Luckily, we’re not going to do that.

Vicki Markussen 10:48
All the siblings did not agree to that one. Yeah,

Clara Gelatt 10:50
No, that is true.

Vicki Markussen 10:53
Meanwhile, that artists said, “Oh, no, I just lost a job.” Right?

Clara Gelatt 10:57
There’s plenty of wall space. I think we’ll be able to find something for her. Yes, definitely. Yeah. Yeah.

Vicki Markussen 11:04
And it’s interesting to clarify, because when we first met inside that building, you had talked about the, the visual piece that a lot of people forget about. So there’s that long walk to get actually to the movie theater. Because the movie theater is set in the back of the building, which optically people just forget about that. And then all the offices are above [the long hallway] Right?

Clara Gelatt 11:26
Right. Yeah, that took me I think I had to walk through the building twice before I really started to understand how the buildings put together. But it really is almost two buildings, right? So you have the when you walk in and the storefronts, and then the office is all on top of the storefronts, and then it angles down to get you to the theater. And the theater is set behind the offices. So when you’re up on the third floor, you ,when you look out the windows, you’re looking at the theater. Then when you’re on the fourth floor, you’re actually looking down on the theater. So it’s a Yeah, it’s a really, it’s a cool building.

Vicki Markussen 12:02
It is a cool building.

Clara Gelatt 12:02
We had an electrician in there, because we had to redo some of the wiring. I think it took him half the morning to figure out how the two would connect for him to do the wiring. And when he finally figured it out. He was so excited. I mean, it’s, it’s fun. You know, as you get people in the building, it’s like a mystery box a little bit, because you have years and years of different renovations. There’s always that question of, “I wonder why they decided to do it this way?” You know, that doesn’t make sense to us now. But I’m sure there was some reason at the time.

We have much more to talk about. We’re going to break this podcast into two because there’s some great conversation to have around siblings, and doing business with siblings and also change. So we’re going to conclude this BizCast Greater La Crosse. You’re going to have to tune into the next podcast to find out about those amazing dynamics. You’ve been listening to Biz Cast Greater La Crosse – news coming out of the business community. We’ll catch you next week.




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