On the road to financial recovery: Nonprofit YES Cinema shows signs of a comeback

The local YES Cinema and Conference Center, slowly fighting its way back to financial stability, just recorded in December its strongest month for attendance since the pandemic first closed it in March 2020, and then limited crowds for a long time thereafter.

That December overall showing included several sellouts — 177 seats in one theater and 146 in the other — for both new releases “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “Sing 2,” according to Diane Doup. She’s the longtime program coordinator for the Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Center that operates YES.

The United Way of Bartholomew County agency has used proceeds from the venue for years to fund a variety of its programs to equip some of the city’s lowest-income residents in the downtown area with ways to improve their lives.

Those programs range from employment aid to parenting classes to home-buying help. That is significant since Lincoln-Central is among those key local agencies with a direct mission to assist clients to better their work and financial standing — a main component of United Way’s far-reaching focus for more than five years.

Randy Allman, Lincoln-Central’s executive director, has said for more than a year that as Hollywood picks up the pace of new releases, ticket buyers will return to YES at 328 Jackson St. in downtown Columbus.

“And the holiday movies have been wonderful for us,” Doup said. “It kicked off what seems like a big resurgence.”

Ron Adams, senior manager at YES, put the comeback month into superhero perspective.

“It took the amazing Spider-Man to bring us amazing numbers,” he said.

Doup added that figures show that attendance at YES movie showings is nearly 65 percent better than a year ago. Plus, she said that YES staff recently have seen an uptick recently in new customers.

Ideally, Doup said that the Lincoln-Center staff hopes to return YES to a break-even status financially by perhaps summer.

“We are very hopeful,” she said.

She pointed out that staff is grateful for the $150,000 total — $75,000 each from the city and the county — in American Rescue Plan funds that the venue received recently.

“That is very much appreciated,” Doup said.

It also helps that the recent surge in ticket sales was continuing even Monday afternoon. Just before a showing of “Sing 2,” a crowd of 23 people showed up within two minutes of one another for tickets or concessions. Then another 10 quickly came in the door, with all, standing in front of a sign reading “Please be patient,” because of occasional staffing issues that are arising with most businesses currently.

They did indeed wait patiently.

Among those in line was Jackie Marshall with her grandchildren. She had just been there days ago as well and said she attends showings often.

“I love the fact that it’s clean and I like knowing that I am supporting a local business,” Marshall said.

She added that it’s important to her that she also is indirectly supporting Lincoln-Central’s outreaches to the struggling, which she has been aware of for some time.

Several other people in line for tickets also stressed that they come to YES because of the cleanliness. In fact, one mother said that not only is that significant during the pandemic, but she noticed staff wiping surfaces and cleaning floors regularly long before COVID-19.

“We’re happy and thankful that people feel comfortable coming back,” Doup said. “We hope that they will continue to do so in the future as we also hope that some of the fears of the pandemic lessen as we all learn ways to live amid what appears to be a new normal.”