Like most relationships that end abruptly, the sudden closure of Aberdeen’s D&R Theatre over the weekend left residents of the city and county wondering what went wrong.
Owner John Yonich closed the theater Saturday, claiming the governmental red tape had just become too much of a burden for him.
“John is still a good friend, I wish he would call me and I wish he would talk to me. We’re willing to help in any way, shape or form,” Mayor Bill Simpson said. “We’ve done everything we can possibly do legally to help John make the D&R Theatre a success.”
A plywood barrier wall went up in front of the theater’s entrance Tuesday, and workers started removing at least some of the seats. Yonich did not return calls for comment about the theater’s future, but a representative said Saturday there were no plans to sell. Scoops and Backstage Espresso, the ice cream and coffee shops on the ground floor of the building, are also closed.
It’s got neighboring businesses worried.
“We’ve gotten a lot of clients just from people at concerts or at the coffee shop,” said Christina Bowers, one of the owners of Bella Vita Salon & Spa across from the theater.
The improvements Yonich made to I Street and the downtown overall improved traffic to the salon, she said.
“We get comments every week, ‘You guys work on the nicest street, so much going on,’ ” she added.
Lisa McElliott, owner of Seaworthy Home vintage store, also on I Street, said she had been excited to open her business in September in the midst of Yonich’s downtown revitalization effort.
“It just makes me really sad,” she said. “We really wanted to start a business here. … It’s going to affect the whole town.”
Social media was atwitter over the news, with plenty of people sharply criticizing the city and other government agencies for failing to keep Yonich in town, while others praised the city’s work over the years to help the theater thrive.
“Please don’t close the doors! That theater brought life to the town. we need this to keep our town (surviving) in this economy!” Tracy Newsom-Towns wrote on Facebook.
Stacy Mohondro wrote: “Seeing the D&R amongst the other dilapidated buildings in downtown made me so hopeful that Aberdeen was on its way back. It was such a bright spot in a very depressed-looking atmosphere. … This is SO unfortunate and I can only hope that political loopholes or resistance to change on the part of the city didn’t cause this. So very sad to see this.”
The business page for Backstage Memorabilia posted: “You can count us in … for VIP/Season tickets should the theater re-open in the future.”
A debate erupted on the city’s Planning Commission Facebook page, dozens of comments long, pitching various theories on what happened and lamenting the challenges facing anyone hoping to clean up the city.
“One troubling aspect of tidying up the mess is that property owners are rewarded with staggering tax bills. And this is after they’ve probably overspent and over-improved, from an investment perspective. Improving their properties is a lose-lose. As long as the buildings are minimally safe and sanitary, the owners will pay less tax and, in this realty market, the cost of renovation won’t pay off, ” wrote Brian Beers.
A plan to meet at the theater tonight quickly gained support, with more than 140 people saying they plan to attend a rally to cover the plywood wall with messages of thanks to Yonich, then walk to City Hall where the City Council will be holding an unrelated workshop “to stand in silence for a few moments, to let them know we are there,” according to the event’s page.
The event is scheduled to start at 5 p.m.
“It’s just a shame. It’s very sad for the town. I hope it all gets worked out,” Bowers said.