Lisa Benic of the Ideal Theater
After learning that their childhood movie theater was closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lisa Benic and her sisters breathed new life into the downtown Clare gem
As a Clare native, Lisa Benic knows the importance of community. That’s why when the Ideal Theater was permanently closed in 2021, she and sisters Sandy Wright and Sue Leverence decided to save the historic downtown icon.
Two years and a lot of hard work later, the Ideal Theater is back and better than ever.
With support from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the Clare community, the Ideal Theater reopened in March 2023 with new ventilation, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems plus massive cosmetic renovations including an expanded lobby and concession area.
For Lisa, there’s no place like Clare – and the future remains bright under the glow of the Ideal Theater marquee.
How long have you lived in Clare?
My six siblings and I grew up in Clare, and I live here now with my husband, who also grew up here. We’ve been married for 30 years and live in his childhood home. Our moms still live in Clare, and our siblings visit often – usually stopping in to help out at the theater when they’re in town!
What led to you reopening the Ideal Theater? Did you have a personal connection to the theater, or any memories of the theater, either as a child or adult?
The Ideal Theater closed in March 2020 because of the pandemic along with all the other theaters across the nation. A year later, many theaters were still closed – including the Ideal – and we started wondering what would happen to it. One day my sister, Sandy Wright, said, “You know what? We should buy the theater.” It wasn’t for sale, but after speaking with the owner and touring the theater we all decided to move forward. The Ideal Theater was such an important part of our childhoods – we all saw our first movies there – and it’s a critical piece of Clare’s historic downtown. We felt very strongly that it needed to reopen for the community.
What was the renovation process of the theater like?
The renovation process itself took almost two years – a year in planning, design, architecture and engineering, and a year in construction. Virtually every inch of the theater has been redone, from the basement to the roof. It was a huge challenge, especially during the pandemic, but it was very exciting. We began with a goal of preserving the history of the building while making it accessible, safe and comfortable, so we kept the nostalgic elements wherever we could and modernized where necessary.
What is your movie selection process like? Do you show current movies only, or any specialty or seasonal showings?
As a single-screen theater, we have to be very intentional when selecting movies. We primarily show first-run movies, and we are constantly reviewing release calendars and projections to find films suited to the widest possible audience. We offered a series of family films on Saturday mornings this summer that was a lot of fun, and we are planning some similar matinees for the fall and the Christmas holidays. We also do private screenings, events, fundraisers and we’re even starting some live performances. The Ideal Theater has a fairly sizable stage behind the screen, so we developed a screen that can move out of the way to accommodate live shows.
What has the community reception been like since reopening?
The community reception has been incredible. So many people have special memories of the Ideal, and it’s very touching to hear their stories. When they enter the lobby for the first time since the renovation, they are wowed by how different it is, but when they enter the auditorium, it feels very familiar because we kept the same layout. Our guests love the new features, like larger restrooms, more spacious seating and wheelchair accommodations, but they also love rediscovering the original elements, like the neon clock and historic light fixtures.
What do you think sets Clare and the community apart from the rest of the state?
Clare is a friendly community with a great vibe…and it’s thriving! There are so many unique eateries, shops, historic buildings – not to mention a great little theater – and people are drawn here from other towns, either for the day or for the weekend. Because we’re at the intersection of two major highways, we’re easy to get to, and once people are here, they decide to stay awhile. We also offer great festivals and events – it’s a fun place to be!
What would you like someone to know about the Ideal Theater and the community of Clare?
We are so pleased and honored to be a part of this community. The support for our renovation project has been amazing, and we are so happy to be able to provide affordable, family-friendly entertainment here again. There’s truly no place like Clare.