SYCAMORE – Makie and Kari Maratos met in college doing theater, and the married couple describes theater as “both of our passions combined.”
The Maratoses, along with Makie’s parents Pete and Jean Maratos, are the new owners of the Sycamore State Theatre, 420 W. State St. in Sycamore. They purchased the building, which features three movie screens, two storefronts and five upstairs apartments on June 2 from the theater’s previous owners, Ken and Daryl Hopper.
“We were looking for a restaurant originally, but when I saw the building available with a spot to put a restaurant, I knew it was the right choice,” Makie Maratos said.
Makie Maratos is originally from Belvidere and Kari is from Tripoli, Iowa, and they had been living in Rockford the last few years. The family has already moved to Sycamore with their 4-year-old son Taki, and they look forward to reopening the theater in early to mid-July.
“The Hopper family did a great job maintaining the theater, and we were able to take it over with very little repairs needed,” Makie Maratos said.
“We might make a few cosmetic changes, like new paint in the lobby, but we want to keep it just like it is, an old-fashioned theater,” Kari Maratos said. “We will also continue to sell the different flavors of popcorn the Hoppers started.”
In the future, the Maratoses hope to add a stage to one of the theater screens to be able to offer live performances, such as plays, talent shows and open mic nights.
“The theater, which was originally the Fargo Theater, hosted musicals, vaudevilles and silent movies,” Makie Maratos said. “We look forward to bringing some of that back with live performances on a stage.”
The Fargo Theater opened Dec. 12, 1925 and had a 900-seat capacity. It was renamed the State Theater in 1940. It closed in the 1970s and became a church. The building became a theater again in the 1980s, but closed after being renovated. Main Street Theatres purchased and reopened the theater again in 1990.
Daryl Hopper managed the theater since 1992, and the Hoppers purchased the theater in 2000.
“The theater had a lot of firsts and a lot of memories: it was the first building in DeKalb County that had air conditioning, it had a Geneva Pipe Organ, it had a 10-by-10 foot sound room, making it one of the first theaters in the nation that had sound,” Daryl Hopper said.
Daryl Hopper remembers an elderly woman approaching her once, thanking her for keeping the theater in town.
“The lady said that one of her most vivid memories was in the theater,” Hopper said. “Her dad used to take her family to the theater every Sunday after church to see the news reels and a movie.”
On a Sunday, Hopper recalled the woman telling her, the theater’s manager came in to the turn the house lights on and interrupted a showing. It was Dec. 7, 1941, and Pearl Harbor in Hawaii had just been bombed. Community members gathered in the theater’s lobby with maps of Hawaii and a radio, Hopper said the woman told her. Children stayed in the theater all day long watching cartoons while the adults tuned into the radio.
“She went into the lobby once to see what was happening, and it scared her,” Hopper said the woman recounted. “So she went back to watching cartoons. The theater has had so much history tied to it, so many memories, through the years.”
Two years ago, the Hoppers retired to North Carolina and the theater has been managed by their daughter, Amber Hopper.
“My mom was in the theater business since she was 16,” Amber Hopper said. “We grew up at the theater, and me and my siblings, as well as my kids, each had our first food there. Of course, it was popcorn.”
Amber Hopper said that the selling of the theater is “bittersweet, a mix of emotions.”
“It was time, but we’re sad to see it go,” she said. “We watched our customers grow up there, we watched families grow. We saw first dates, pregnancies, children. It truly was a family theater. We’re happy the new owners will be keeping it a theater and are planning to reopen.”
Daryl Hopper said her husband having a massive heart attack made her “realize that life was too short.” Since retiring two years ago, the Hopper family has opened a Hoppers Poppers popcorn store in North Carolina and are soon opening a second location in Virginia.
“We’re thrilled the new owners want to keep it as a movie theater, especially since they are a young couple, just like my husband and I were,” Daryl Hopper said. “It’s a great thing for Sycamore to have a theater downtown. I wish them the best of luck. I know they love it just as much as we did. 1925 will be its 100 year anniversary, and I hope it stays in existence 100 years after my grandchildren die.”
Makie and Kari Maratos said that their goal as new owners of the theater is to “create memories with the community and have the theater be a part of everyone’s lives.”
“Kari was at the midnight openings for ‘Harry Potter,’ and I was at all the ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies,” Makie Maratos said. “There’s something special about watching a movie in a theater on the big screen. There’s nothing else like it. And after a year of streaming movies and watching things at home during the pandemic, I think everyone is looking forward to getting out and going to the movies again.”
“We’re excited to be the new owners of a small theater in a really great town,” she said. “We look forward to raising our family here and being a part of the community.”