Vickers Theater in Three Oaks put up for sale showing independent films


THREE OAKS − The Vickers Theaterwhich for 26 years has developed a niche for showing independent films and art in the heart of “Harbor Country”, went on sale just over a month ago.

But, although it is still showing films and there are no plans to close, sole owner Judy Scully said she hopes the next owner will continue this tradition and do more.

Aged 81 and in her 13th year as an owner, she said on Thursday she loved the job but was ready to hand over day-to-day responsibilities.

“I think he needs new eyes,” she said. “The Vickers should be more than movies. We did that (other entertainment), but not on a regular basis.

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He and Scully said they couldn’t limit what the next owner would do with it.

“Everyone I’ve spoken to in the community would like it to stay the way it is,” said Zarantenella, who has lived full-time in Three Oaks for 13 years.

He said it has already generated a lot of interest from potential buyers, both local and from outside the region. But, in dealing with their agents, he said he didn’t ask what their clients would do with the property.

Listing agent, Ron Zarantenella of Three Oaks, with At Properties/Christie’s, said the sale will include the 3,722 square foot structure located at 6 N. Elm St. in downtown Three Oaks and its 126 spaces, with a ground floor and balcony, as well as business-related issues and amenities. Online asking price is $450,000.

The interior of the historic Vickers Theater seats approximately 126 people.  Becky Malewitz, South Bend Tribune File

Founded in 1996

Jon Vickers and his wife, Jennifer, an artist, opened the theater in 1996. Two years earlier, they had seen a “for sale” sign in front of this building, which had been a livery and movie theater since it was built. in 1890. They bought it and developed a dream by devoting two years to renovations.

“We were pretty naive at first,” Jon Vickers told The Tribune for a 10-year anniversary story. “We started as a kind of hobby business, and it completely changed our lives and what we do.”

They quickly found that there was pent-up demand for an art movie theater in the area. In doing so, Jon Vickers gained such a reputation that the University of Notre Dame hired him to manage the Browning Cinema at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.

The historic Vickers Theater is located in downtown Three Oaks.  Marcus Marter, South Bend Tribune file

Scully bought the theater in 2010 with her husband, Joe, after the couple retired from working in Chicago – Joe as president and CEO of the St. Paul Federal Savings Bank and Judy as professor of public health nursing at Loyola University. They had moved to Michigan 20 years ago and Judy Scully still resides in nearby Lakeside. Joe died in 2016.

The theater now has nine employees, including Scully, all part-time. She said the audience came from communities along the shore of Lake Michigan and areas of South Bend, Valparaiso and Chicago.

Off-screen offers

The theater used to have small one-on-one performances and hosted young directors talking about their films. But to make those types of efforts viable again, she said, “You need to have a marketing manager.”

“I hope whoever buys the theater looks at options to do so,” she said.

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The theater still features the works of visual artists on its walls, changing the exhibit every two months for a total of five artists per year. It used to feature a different artist every month but, Scully said, “It must have been too much work.”

Before the pandemic, she had discussed with a local musical theater owner the possibility of joining forces for a film and wine festival. She knows there are more possibilities like this.

“You get a sense of pride in owning something so beautiful that people love,” she said. “There are a lot of positives for anyone who owns this.”

Survive the pandemic

Scully said she is starting to meet with some of the interested parties to answer questions that have arisen about the business, such as employees, finances and how the theater has weathered the pandemic.

The Vickers closed for a full year when COVID hit, but, Scully said, it survived well, thanks to the feds Paycheck Protection Program ready and Subsidy for operators of closed sites to keep businesses afloat during the pandemic.

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“We don’t have the numbers we had before COVID,” she said of attendance, noting visitors who are still hesitant because of COVID and also movie distributors who held back on multiple titles.

Yet, she said, the pandemic also allowed the Vickers to get some blockbusters.

“Before COVID, we never would have had ‘Top Gun,'” she said.

Tom Cruise’s hit remake, “Top Gun: Maverick,” drew 101 people to watch — a number the Vickers hadn’t seen since before the pandemic.

The Vickers had carved out a place for themselves by focusing on small independent films.

But Scully said he had moved beyond that in recent years and started offering popular blockbusters because “you can’t make money if you don’t have big movies”.


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