Some events may be feasible in Phase 3
By Don Nelson
After more than a year of standing vacant, the Winthrop Auditorium (“the Barn”) may not start being fully occupied anytime soon.
Like most public venues in the state, the popular building has been off limits to major public gatherings since the state’s COVID-19 recovery plans went into effect last year. The last big event at the Barn was Room One’s “Big Event” fundraiser at the end of February 2020.
Rick Northcott, president of the Winthrop Auditorium Association — a nonprofit that operates the Barn for the Town of Winthrop — said last week that the facility is being maintained, barely, with help from the town. At the association’s request, the town late last year began providing $750 a month to help supplant the barn’s lost revenue.
The Barn’s usual sources of revenue disappeared when the coronavirus restrictions were imposed. Concerts, weddings, meetings and other gatherings were canceled. Other major happenings including the Winthrop Kiwanis Bite of the Methow, the annual gathering of the Zumiez sales staff, Winthrop ’49er Days and the Winthrop Vintage Wheels Show all canceled their Barn dates. The annual Christmas at the End of the Road appearance of Santa Claus was also canceled, as was the holiday shopping bazaar.
Other Barn regulars such as the monthly “First Tuesday” meeting of the Methow Conservancy and monthly meetings of the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce have gone virtual.
Northcott said last week that the Barn lost $14,000 in 2020. “We barely break even, at best, in any year,” he said. Staff hours have been reduced and the facility manager quit, Northcott said.
Northcott said it’s possible that the Barn can host some events later in the year if the state’s COVID-related restrictions continue to loosen.
That may happen as early as May. The tentative schedule of events for the ’49er Days celebration includes cowboy poetry, music and campfire stories in the Barn on May 8, with 25% occupancy.
Northcott reiterated that the Barn needs major upgrades such as new sound and lighting systems, dressing rooms behind the stage, and mechanical improvements. The covered entryway vestibule was demolished last year and has yet to be replaced. Northcott added that at this point, the association’s board of directors won’t tap endowed funds left by the late Red McComb for use in enhancing the Barn.