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Historic Palace Theatre plays a starring role

The Historic Palace Theatre in Lockport has been awarded a $423,000 state grant to help with ongoing renovations. But the Palace is more than a theater—it also plays an important role in the city's economy.

"From a city perspective, the Palace Theatre is the cornerstone of our downtown," said Lockport Common Council President David Wohleben. He is also the Treasurer of the Palace Theatre.

According to the Greater Lockport Development Corporation, the theatre draws nearly 85,000 people a year and pumps about $2.5 million into the local economy.

"I wonder what Lockport would like if the Palace Theatre were not here? As far as events that go on. Because I would say, probably 50 percent of things that happen in the downtown area, the Palace is involved in, in some way," Wohleben said.  And further upgrades, he says, will only grow the importance of the theatre.

Board President Ellen Schratz says, that the Palace opened in 1925 as an "A" rated movie theatre. Which unlike several "B" rated theaters in the city, means the Palace showed first-run movies.     
"It's a grand old theatre. They spared no expense. It was the gem of the city. And it's sort of like a little Sheas," Schratz said.  

But like many old theatres, the Palace fell on hard times in the 1960s. And Schratz says it was almost demolished. In 2003, she was part of group that formed a nonprofit that raised $300,000 to buy the Palace with the goal of maintaining the historic landmark.
"We had no idea what we were doing. And we're really happy that we're still here - because we sort of figured it out. We thought we could put in a VHS tape in the VCR and show movies. Not true," Schratz said.

Executive Director Christopher Parada is in his thirteenth year at the theatre.

"We started with nothing. This wasn't where it was a fully functional theatre, and there's millions of dollars coming in. And you're getting all this state funding and stuff. You didn't have anything," Parada said.  

But with lots of sweat equity and various grants, Schratz says, they've come a long way.
"We have our own in-house production company. We do live musicals and plays. We do dance recitals. We do mayoral inaugurations. Lots of schools have their plays and musicals here. It's just really become a hub of the community," Schratz said.  

Parada says, even if the building's not open to the public, they're busy behind the scenes about 360 days a year. And with 1,000 seats, Parada says, the Palace has one of the largest houses in the area.  
"We have a big space. So when we put on live shows or concerts, things like that, we have to fill it. So we get really creative, which is fun. But we can do something a little bit more than maybe a smaller theatre company in Buffalo could do," Parada said.  

The key to making it all happen, Parada says, is over 200 volunteers who, he says, are really all working for the good of the community.
"On a Friday or Saturday night we have a thousand people here. They're going to go to a restaurant, before or after a show. They're going to grab a drink. Get gas. Or go to the store. They're going to go for ice cream. That's something we're providing and helping businesses. And we've been doing it since 1925." And Parada says, there's more to come.