Big congratulations to Lois and Jeff Hoover, owners of the Noyo Theatre in Willits. They were one of the successful applicants for a Shuttered Venue Operators grant, helping them to stay afloat and have a positive impact on the local economy. When restrictions from the pandemic started to lift and theatres were able to open, we took a trip to Willits to speak with Lois and Jeff Hoover, the owners of the Noyo Theatre. We wanted to know about the theatre, how they came to own it, and their plans for the future.

WC: Jeff, tell us about the theatre and what makes it so special.
JH: The building dates from 1940, so it’s an 81-year old beautiful historic landmark movie theatre. The very first movie shown here, Dark Command, was made by a resident of Willits. We showed that film for our Covid re-opening, which was also the 81st birthday of the theatre, and it was a great success. That same show, we also ran Movietone news clips and played music from the 1940s. When we bought the theatre, we were amazed at the number of old-timers who would come by and say they loved the place. We got such a kick out of some of the stories we heard about people seeing their first movie here or working here when they were teens.

WC: Do you feel that the theatre is an emotional touchpoint for the community?
LH: Definitely! Recently a woman from the Willits High graduating class of 1962 stopped by to tell us that she had organized a big fundraiser to raise money for us. When they came to present us with the check, all of them had stories about the theatre and how much they loved it. The stories were a lot of fun.

WC: The theatre has changed over the years. How has the experience changed? 
JH: First, we have three screens instead of one big one, which was how the place was originally built. And now the whole “back end” of the business is digital. The whole industry changed and there were no more of those huge reels of film that you’d have to tape together in order to show a movie, which really changed things for projectionists! When we took over the business in 2012, the theatre was still running film, so just after we moved in, we needed to digitize all three theatres. It was kind of funny: people didn’t really notice the change over. They just thought the picture was better and the sound was clearer!

WC:  Let’s talk about your decision to buy the theatre and how that played out.
LH: I was a film editor in LA, cutting and splicing film and when everything became digital I became a digital editor, but it just wasn’t the same. So we decided to find an established business to purchase as we didn’t want to start from scratch. I enrolled at the community college for classes, one of which was called Small Business Entrepreneurship. The class talked about the Small Business Administration and their resources, so I was motivated to find the local SBDC after we moved up to Mendocino County. I called the West BDC and they hooked us up with mentors and advisors who really guided us every step of the way. Although I took classes in bookkeeping and business skills, West Center’s focus was on being prepared, having a business plan, and being able to present to a bank to secure a loan. When we went to get financing, our banker was surprised that we were so well prepared. He told us, “I’m used to people walking in with a Post-it note and saying that’s how much money I want!” We gave him a CD with all of our paperwork on it and West Center really prepared us for that moment and beyond. After we bought the theatre, they helped me set up my books, gave us help with social media. They were amazing… they still are!

WC: What’s your day like running the theatre?
LH: I start my week by ordering films and scheduling them and then schedule personnel to work the shifts. I order inventory. I do all the bookkeeping and advertising. I feel like I hit the ground runnning every day. We have private screenings, which has been a great thing for the theatre.
JH: I come in really early and deal with the computers, put the deposits together. I check that the marquees are correct and make sure that everything in the lobby is working. I update our website and load the movies and schedule them. I make sure the local ads are running in the right sequence.

WC: Are you happy to offer your community this movie theatre?
LH: People have been so grateful that we’re here… they want us and the theatre here. We actually put the theatre up for sale briefly but the community went nuts. The theatre needed a paint job and an anonymous member of the community paid for it. We’re grateful to feel such a part of this community after 10 years of being here. 

WC: Will you reach out to West Center in the future?
LH: I did reach out to West Center when I was applying for different grants that were available for pandemic relief. They were very helpful in organizing me so I could successfully apply. I also spoke with an advisor about reorganizing the company and they sent us in the right direction so we could figure out whether that was a good move or not. 

WC: Would you recommend West Center to another business owner?
LH: I would highly recommend that anyone starting a small business be prepared with working capital, and an idea of how your business will work, which is what West Center will help you with. I think West Center is an amazing resource.

WC: What are your favorite types of movies and why?
LH: I love a good dialogue film… one with a good story. There are some wonderful independent films being made. The real action movies put me to sleep! 
JH: I like action movies although I watch everything that we show here. I like big screen movies. We’re going to start a classic film series and have an over-21 club so people can have a glass of wine while they’re watching a film. That’s a first for this area!

WC: What do you want people to know?
JH: Hollywood is starting to give us some good films again… come back to the movies!
LH: We have the best staff in the world… and we have the best popcorn, so come and see a film at the Noyo!

We left Lois and Jeffery with a happy ending!