One of the many things in Plains that odes to a life of many years ago and makes visiting the town feel like walking one is back in time, is its beloved Llano Theatre, which was built more than a cenury ago.
The building, constructed in 1911, started as a billiard house, called The Green Room, and was eventually turned into a photo-playhouse, or a silent movie theater. At the time the owner also possessed the theater in Hot Springs, so they had to cart the organ, which played the background music for the movies, back and forth between the two theaters.
The Llano has been a part of the community far longer than anyone still alive today, and many of the old timers in town can likely remember working in the theater in their youth.
In 2000, John and Marian Meckler bought the building and took over the business from the Ekstroms, with whom they were good friends. That same year, after they had purchased the business, theaters across the county were required to update to digital, from the old film projectors.
This was a great expense to many small theaters and, at a cost of $70,000, most businesses couldn’t continue. Now the only theater in the county left open is the Llano. For a while these new upgrades worked and the Mecklers were able to pay off the expense . . . until this year.
About four weeks ago the projector stopped working, and with no other recourse John and Marian needed help. When tech support looked at the system, they found that a faulty part was to blame and it cost roughly $4,000.
The maintenance alone to repair the system added another $5,000 to the bill and put the theater out of commission for two weeks, until the problem was resolved. It wasn’t easy losing the money from a business which only operates on weekends.
Although the repairs were made and the Llano has been back up and running for the last two weeks, the financial hits have created large concerns for the survival of the little movie theater.
“This won’t shut us down, but it is the first time we have had to pull money out of our own pockets, so it stings,” John said. “We just hope that things run smoothly from now on, and that maybe, eventually, we will start making some money back.”
The Llano remains one of the cheapest theaters in the state, and one of the last places that you can watch a movie for $5, buy a large drink for $2.25, purchase candy for $1.90 and snack on a large buttered popcorn for $2.25.
They wish to stay this way, especially because, as John put it “Many of the locals in this area don’t make a whole lot.”
A local named Lenka Harris noticed the difficulties the little theater was having and decided to do something about it. She started a Go-Fund-Me account online to benefit the Llano and with great success. The fund has so far raised more than $2,000, and is steadily rising, though they are still a long way from the $9,000 expense that hit the theater this year.
Of all the bad that came out of this there has been some good.
According to John Meckler the movie he was going to play the night the system crashed was the new Spiderman. Since he couldn’t play it, he had to send the tape back, thinking that that was the problem.
Last week the theater was able to get Spiderman again, and this time it was the enhanced version, with two deleted scenes and five minutes extra on the film.