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Ridgewalker will serve as a 'promotional partner' for the septuagenarian theater.

STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Ridgewalker Entertainment is now displayed at the top of the Forest Theaters marquee. The two businesses continue to be separately owned, but they have joined forces for promotional purposes.The Forest Theater has been a mainstay on Pacific Avenue in downtown Forest Grove for more than 70 years.

In recent years, though, the theater at 1911 Pacific Ave. has been struggling. With a single screen, a small concession stand and no commercial kitchen, it has a tough time competing against other cinemas in the region.

Jeff Farrar, manager and event coordinator at Ridgewalker Brewing, would like to change that.

"I see lots of potential for this theater," Farrar said.

Earlier this month, Ridgewalker announced a new business partnership with the Forest Theater. Robert Perkins, who has owned the Forest for more than 12 years, is hoping to improve the theater's financial health enough to upgrade its facilities and improve the experience for moviegoers. Farrar, who has aspirations of building up Ridgewalker as not just a microbrewery but also a regional entertainment group, is hoping to promote his business and cultivate the Forest as an event space in Forest Grove's historic downtown area.

"With a lot of the events that I do, it would make sense to be able to help that theater, because it's going to help me a lot, too," Farrar said.

Perkins described Ridgewalker as a "promotional partner."

"Jeff's got a lot of ideas," Perkins said. "I'm all for it, and hopefully it's the 'it' factor that we need here to try to help this place."

STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Robert Perkins has owned and operated the Forest Theater in downtown Forest Grove since 2006, despite losing money on it each year. He loves the 1940s-vintage theater and hopes a new partnership with Ridgewalker Brewing can bring it some much-needed attention.The Forest Theater still picks up some first-run films. Perkins is expecting a revenue boost as Marvel Studios' hotly anticipated superhero movie "Black Panther" opens this weekend. But with the Forest's single screen, movies are usually screened just once per day — on days when the theater is actually open — and even for popular new movies like "Black Panther," Perkins said the usual number of showings is four per day.

Even that level of operations has been difficult, Perkins admitted.

"It's not been good, financially," said Perkins of his time running the Forest. "It's been a real struggle to keep this theater operating."

Perkins also owns the Cornelius Cinemas, a much larger theater just a few miles east of downtown Forest Grove. But he has a sentimental feeling toward the Forest.

"I've continued to operate it, even at a loss the entire time, just because I think it's a nice little theater," Perkins said. "My hope was that eventually, we could get this theater back to where it was reasonable in terms of business. I've always liked it."

He added, "I've always felt that this theater could do better if we could get a feel, an 'it' feel, about it."

Ridgewalker is located just a block away from the Forest, at 1921 21st Ave. in Forest Grove. Farrar is a vocal advocate of downtown businesses working together to revitalize the commercial district, and he sees the theater as a central component.

"My vision is really to bring it back to life," Farrar said.

FILE - Jeff Farrar founded Ridgewalker Brewing with a few friends in 2016. He has ambitions of building Ridgewalker into an entertainment company, not just a microbrewery and restaurant.For now, the changes are mostly cosmetic. The theater's marquee now includes "Ridgewalker Entertainment" in block lettering at the top, and Farrar said he has been granted control of its social media accounts for promotional purposes.

Back in December, Ridgewalker partnered with the Forest and other downtown businesses, including nearby Waltz Brewing, for a "Star Wars"-themed pub crawl and scavenger hunt. The night culminated with a special showing of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" on the Forest's screen.

Farrar said that event was a big success, and with Ridgewalker and the Forest now having a more established relationship, he hopes to run promotions like that in the future with the theater. He is looking ahead particularly to the release of another Marvel blockbuster, "Avengers: Infinity War," in May.

"A lot more dance parties might be themed around a movie that'll be coming out this year, and I'm trying to amp up my dance parties," Farrar said. "I'm going to be doing a superhero dance party — so what if you can go see 'Avengers: Infinity War' and then afterward come to an afterparty that's a superhero-themed party. That's kind of my vision for that. For us, using our brand over there will hopefully bring in some business."

Of the partnership, he added, "I think it's going to be great."

Both Farrar and Perkins said they would like to invest any additional money made at the theater into improvements. Farrar is keen on adding more beer taps so that Ridgewalker's brews can be poured at the Forest, as well as putting in a stage big enough to accommodate live entertainment acts. Perkins said he wants to upgrade the seating and add a kitchen and full bar. Both said they would like to get and show more movies, more often.

But the Art Deco stylings of the Forest Theater aren't something that either Farrar or Perkins said they are looking to change.

"I want to keep a good in-between of the old feel of that theater," said Farrar. "I want to have that balance of the old and the new, so people can appreciate it from all generations."

There won't be a second screen added to the theater, Perkins said — he already has his cineplex in Cornelius for that.

"I'm not going to make it a stadium, recliner theater," Perkins said. "I think that'd be out of place here."

He added, "As I've done in the last 12 years, we have upgraded every time that we felt that we could. I'd like to see the front end redone. The marquee is going to be a fortune. But we'll chip away at it, hopefully."

Even though running the Forest hasn't always been easy, Perkins still shows clear pride in his little old theater in downtown Forest Grove. He's worked for big cinema chains, he said, but his passion is in working as an independent theater operator.

"It's a fun business," he said with a smile. "I live for Friday nights."STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - The Forest Theater has one auditorium, which Ridgewalker Brewing manager Jeff Farrar would like to see upgraded with a stage for live entertainment when it's not being used to show movies.

By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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