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The Grand Theatre of Oelwein, which will turn 100 in 2022, will receive a birthday present of more spacious, American-made seating among other renovations after it reached its fundraising goal of $25,500 from the public, on Friday.

Mid-November, they were $2,500 short, and Board President Matt Vogel said they hoped to reach the goal by Thanksgiving.

One of many generous contributions that have put them over this goal, says Grand Theatre Manager Cindy Kime, was a $2,500 donation from Community Bank of Oelwein, which also presented The Grand a novelty check representing the gift on Tuesday.

As community-run theaters in nearby counties have shuttered, Kime noted families from those places were among those showing their gratitude and love for The Grand Theatre.

The $115,000 seating and renovation project includes grants prior to the pandemic and during the pandemic, including from the Community Foundation of Fayette County, Northeast Iowa Charitable Foundation and an SBA shuttered venue operators grant. The city of Oelwein pledged hotel/motel tax funds to the project, and The Grand Theatre pledged future earnings, accounting for $89,500.

“We went to the public for the remainder,” Kime said, noting $25,500 was the publicly-fundraised part. “That’s the part we met on Friday. That gave us the whole total.”

The renovation project includes new carpeting and an updated sound system to help the hearing impaired, in keeping with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Pandemic-related distribution issues, along with increased demand — such as was created by a federal grant for “shuttered venue operators” — have meant the seats are now expected for delivery in March 2022.

In addition, they will now be American-made. The Grand’s supplier is Sonic Equipment, from Iola, Kansas. The manufacturer, however, is Irwin Seating Co.

Kime explained the decision to switch from whom they purchased, in explaining why they were not using the model from China displayed in The Grand Theatre lobby — but rather an American-made one that she said will be a few inches higher.

“Primarily after the pandemic when freight was so backed up in the Port of Los Angeles and stuff, they said they couldn’t give us any idea of when we would receive them and they said the freight prices escalated very high.

“We just felt, that’s going to blow our budget on freight,” Kime said.

“Actually we got quoted a pretty good price on Irwin seats, Irwin’s actually considered the Cadillac of American seats,” Kime said.

That was one factor.

Another was the Small Business Administration “shuttered venue operators” grant which increased demand.

“Seating companies have lots of orders right now,” she said, noting the March arrival estimate.

The Grand has two theaters, one with 300 seats and the other, 200 seats. The last of these seats were installed in 1975, and several are seriously worn, have broken springs, or are wobbly over their 46 years of usage.

When the project is complete, the larger one (theater 1) will have 200 seats, and the smaller one (theater 2, on the left) will have 100 seats.

Kime isn’t concerned about having fewer seats.

Their peak attendance in the last five years was 160 for a showing of “Avengers Endgame,” she said.

If the name Irwin sounds familiar, it was the same manufacturer the Oelwein School Board approved last week to go in the Middle School Auditorium, although they used another supplier.

Irwin Seating Co. was founded in Grand Rapids, Michigan, over 100 years ago under the name Steel Furniture Co.

In the 1930s, the three Irwin brothers bought out the other investors. The name was changed to Irwin Seating Co.

In 1968, they introduced one of the industry’s first chairs with a molded plastic back panel, per their website. Today’s models offer various “bells and whistles.”

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