Joliet's historic Rialto Square Theatre hosting traffic court to survive COVID-19 pandemic

JOLIET, Ill. (WLS) -- The Rialto Square Theatre has been repurposed into a traffic court as the venue struggles to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The last event we had was March the 8th," said Val Devine, Rialto Square Theatre. "Since then, we have had no shows, no events, no weddings."

Nine people were furloughed at the management company, VenuWorks. The three remaining employees took pay cuts in order to care for the building and work on future projects.

In addition to lost revenue, the theatre is considered a public entity, so it is not eligible for COVID-19 assistance that a typical small business could access. The theatre's executive director is hopeful for help in the federal government's CARES ACT to assist performing arts venues.

"As long as they hear us when we say, 'Here's our exception to your rule,' I think it's OK. But again, there's a lot of people who may have an exception to the rule, and I feel for trying to do the right thing for everybody," Devine said.

The Rialto Square Theatre was originally a vaudeville moviehouse in the 1920s before undergoing a renovation and repurposing as a performing arts center. During the pandemic, the only activity has been in the lobby, where the theatre temporarily hosts Will County's Traffic Court.

"We tried to look at it from the standpoint that maybe we got customers in here that had never been here before," Devine said.

The lack of patrons at the theatre's typical shows have also impacted restaurants and bars nearby.

"I just want to get back to what it was that we did, and it was offering people a couple hours of an evening where they could just enjoy themselves, not think of the things that were troubling them, not be worried about what was going on in the world and to see those happy faces sitting in the seats of our theatre again soon," Devine said. "We continue to be positive that after almost 95 years, she's not going to give up now."
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