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Riverview Theater makes its perfect popcorn available despite COVID-darkened screens

The Riverview Theater's popcorn maker is captured spouting out a fresh batch of perfection.

The Riverview Theater's popcorn maker is captured spouting out a fresh batch of perfection. Star Tribune

Like all great houses of cinema and snackage, the Riverview Theater is perfectly curated to feel like a portal in space-time.

Built in 1948, the theater might not be the ideal stadium for a 3D visual roller coaster with a Marvel-sized budget, but she also isn't some insular venue meant for art house releases, either. 

Instead, Longfellow’s fairest lady avoids polarizing, embracing anyone with a few bucks in their pocket. Part of the Riverview's charm lies in its ability to touch patrons in unexpected ways—those mid-century bathrooms! a bulb-lit marquee flashing so hard you can hear the effort! a balcony jutting above and over the crowd, uniting a small village! …even before the house lights dim and the (lone) screen flickers alive. 

For many theatergoers, this enchantment begins at the door, where the scent of the Riverview’s legendary popcorn fills the lobby. True snacklords have been spreading this particular popcorn's gospel for years—nay, decades—at this point.

Yet the Riverview isn’t exempt from reality, no matter how strong an aura it casts. In light of the pandemic, the theater drew that big, beautiful 1949 curtain, and closed its auditorium to the public. Until things are safe again, its seats will remain spookily empty. 

But for a few days each week, the Riverview reopens—just to sell its best in the city, freshly popped popcorn. 

“People living in the neighborhood have been stopping by to get popcorn to go for many years, so it seemed like a natural thing to continue making popcorn available even though the theater was closed,” Loren Williams, the Riverview Theater’s owner told City Pages. “We will be selling popcorn this Thursday through Sunday, and likely on a regular basis thereafter.” 

As your author was told so long ago, the secret to Riverview’s popcorn dominance is pure, unadulterated butter. By Williams’s estimate, “We typically use at least 100 pounds a week.” 

For a very Minnesota-specific visual of the scale of butter they’re working with: Princess Kay of the Milky Way’s butter head sculptures weigh 90 pounds apiece before they’re rendered into dairy beauties… The Riverview needs more than a princess's worth of butter each week to make its popcorn!

If that image has ruined you on popcorn forever (whoops!), Williams added that they’re also selling candy, sodas, and slushies.

Before regular life ceased, the Riverview had sold its fresh popped takeaway popcorn to passersby and dedicated fans of the concession snack. This new program ("Stay safe but treat yourself") hasn’t been a drastic shift to those in the know, but as Williams shared, it has offered a bit of comfort and normalcy to Riverview’s “regulars.”

“Many people have thanked us for being open. Some have said it’s the highlight of their week,” he said. “Others have stopped in and gotten as many as eight tubs to deliver to friends or elderly people.” 

The Riverview Theater and its patrons on July 7, 2011. For now, links to "Virtual Screenings" appear on the theater's website, which replace their regular lineup of $2 and $3 features.

The Riverview Theater and its patrons on July 7, 2011. For now, links to "Virtual Screenings" appear on the theater's website, which replace their regular lineup of $2 and $3 features. Star Tribune

With so much up in the air for the theater’s future, the Riverview has postponed much of its regular programming, including weekly features and the massively popular Hitchcock Festival. During the interim, they’ve shifted to host “Virtual Screenings,” where patrons can use links on the theater’s site to rent films released by cinema distributors; a portion of those rental fees benefit the Riverview. Those screenings, in conjunction with popcorn sales, help the theater weather the coronavirus, while transporting a bit of the Riverview into customers’ homes.

“We supply bags that people can wrap the popcorn buckets in, tie it at the top, and keep it warm and fresh,” Williams said of their campaign, which includes discounting popcorn by a buck and socially distancing lines that can wrap down the street—just like when the theater was fully operational. 

“It’s also gratifying to see the support from the community who want to make sure the theater survives the pandemic.”

 

Riverview Theater 
3800 42nd Ave. S., Minneapolis 
Thursday-Friday, May 14-15 from 4-7 p.m.; Saturday, May 16 from 2-7 p.m.; Sunday, May 17 from 2-6 p.m.