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In Focus: Thomas J. Eoannou, North Park Theatre owner

The owner of the Hertel Avenue building that houses the North Park Theatre vows to keep the aging movie palace open even though its longtime operator ended screenings earlier this month.

Buffalo attorney Thomas J. Eoannou expressed optimism that he and business partner Michael G. Christiano will develop a thriving entertainment venue at the theater, which Dipson Theatres said has not turned a profit in five years. The developers hope to offer a mix of movies and live entertainment.

Eoannou talked with The Buffalo News’ Brian Meyer about the North Park and Hertel Avenue, where he and his wife have operated businesses for two decades. Here is a summary of an interview that is part of the weekly “In Focus” series.

Meyer: It’s ironic that one of the posters remaining in this very impressive showplace is for a James Franco summer movie, “This is the End.” Is this the end for the North Park?

Eoannou: No, Brian, it’s the beginning. It’s the resurgence of the North Park. We’re going to put it back. We’re going to keep it running bigger and better than ever.

Meyer: How are you going to do that when established movie folks claim they’ve been losing money for five years straight here?

Eoannou: Because we’re going to put the effort in. I’m a neighborhood guy. This is a neighborhood community asset. We’ll do, quite frankly, what Dipson didn’t do. We’ll invest money. We’ll put time and effort into it. We’ll make it beautiful again. We’ll fix the seats. And people will want to come.

Meyer: What type of program fare are you envisioning?

Eoannou: It’s early in the game, but we will certainly have to supplement it with live entertainment, because that’s the only way a single-screen theater can survive.

Meyer: How much money are you going to have to put in to get it up to where you want it?

Eoannou: Mike Christiano and I – Mike from Left Bank – have made a commitment ... in the hundreds of thousands of dollars that we will personally invest

Meyer: Are you going to actually be able to turn a profit here, do you think, or is this more a labor of love?

Eoannou: We’d like to think we can turn a profit, but it’s definitely a labor of love.

Meyer: If you were to give a State of Hertel Avenue speech, what would you say about its current status?

Eoannou: If anybody could give a State of the Avenue speech, it’s me. I’ve been here for over two decades. More has gone on in two years than in the last 20. It’s amazing. Small-shop owners used to open [with] $10,000 or $15,000 investments. Now you’re seeing people spend hundreds of thousands in the same space. ... Hertel is in a sense the new Elmwood. ... It’s a neighborhood still, but it’s wider. It’s just an area that has developed.A lot of people have come over from the Elmwood Village – young professionals. It’s just seeing a rebirth.

Meyer: What do you think the biggest challenge is on Hertel?

Eoannou: The biggest challenge is going to be parking. For 15 or 20 years, I sat around, and there weren’t any cars. Now there’s no parking spots. Hopefully, someday we’ll be able to work with [St. Margaret’s Catholic Church on Hertel] and hopefully get the parking lot. Because Hertel is going to need it.