Revamped Kiggins Theatre breathes new life into downtown Vancouver

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian Health Reporter


While much about the historic Kiggins Theatre is different, at its core, the theater is still the same.

The uncomfortable chairs have been replaced with bigger, cushier chairs. The iconic neon marquee received a fresh coat of paint and LED bulbs. The soda pop selection is now complemented by an array of beers and wines.

Yet the single-screen theater still attracts visitors young and old to watch second-run films at a discounted price. And the theater still invokes childhood memories of double-feature nights at the downtown landmark.

After more than a year of lights-out, the curtain rose again on Kiggins Theatre, 1011 Main St., in September to a warm reception from local residents and downtown neighbors.

“An authentic downtown theater is really important to a traditional downtown like ours,” said Lee Rafferty, executive director of Vancouver’s Downtown Association. “Having the beloved Kiggins Theatre back, alive and well, has meant an awful lot.”

Kiggins owner Bill Leigh said he’s heard only positive feedback from patrons, residents and other business owners.

“Everybody’s very thankful and very appreciative,” he said. “I’ve been thanked a lot just for reopening it. I’ve been surprised.”

So far, Leigh has invested about $400,000 in revamping the theater, which originally opened in 1936. While the remodel is about 95 percent complete, Leigh said he has a few small details he wants to add, such as modern art deco chandeliers in the bar and retractable curtains in the auditorium.

Since reopening, business at the Kiggins has been somewhat slow. Sales are steadily increasing, and Leigh hopes by the end of the year the theater will break even.

“Having a single screen can be volatile because if you picked a bad movie you’re screwed for the week,” Leigh said.

Theater managers select which movies to feature and stick with popular flicks. During Thanksgiving week, the theater showed “The Princess Bride.” This week, “Chocolat” is playing. And later this month, patrons can see “Die Hard,” “Sherlock Holmes” and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” (Hours vary. For the showing schedule, visit

Another hiccup for business: the liquor restrictions.

State law prohibits the theater from serving alcohol in the auditorium. Alcohol cannot be served in an area if minors are ever in the same space. So even though Leigh could create adult-only hours at the theater — no minors after 7 p.m., for example — state law won’t allow alcohol to be served. That means beer and wine is restricted to the upstairs bar, which is problematic for the single-screen theater. Cinetopia has a separate “living room” that is restricted to adults at all times, which is why it is allowed to serve alcohol in the auditorium.

Leigh recently met with state Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, and reached out to other representatives to explain the situation.

“Being able to get alcohol in the auditorium is important to our survival,” Leigh said.

Despite the regulations, the bar addition has been well-received. Some people come to the theater for a drink and never even watch the film, he said.

The theater’s patronage has also spilled over into neighboring businesses, bringing customers into galleries and shops they may have not otherwise discovered.

Leah Jackson, owner of neighboring businesses Angst Gallery and Niche Wine & Art, said she’s seen an increase in foot traffic on the block since the theater opened. People catch a movie then stroll through other downtown shops, she said.

“I’ve actually been keeping the gallery open some nights because people wander in,” Jackson said.

The marquee lighting up the street also attracts people to the area, she said.

Peter Dougherty, owner of Charlies Bistro, said he’s happy the theater’s doors are open and bringing people back to downtown Vancouver.

“It’s good to see people putting money back into the downtown area and people becoming reinvested in the downtown area,” he said.

Marissa Harshman:;;; 360-735-4546.

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